Bright sunshine, bright blue sky and bright, engaging students made the Portland campus’ Husky Fest a particularly fine event. I arrived early and stayed late. I had a great time but upon reflection I felt a need to apologize. As sustainability coordinator, it’s my job to work to improve the University’s environmental impact. When I accepted this wonderful job two years ago I was under no illusions-the job is challenging. The University doesn’t improve its environmental performance automatically-over 11,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators would do this work, one decision at a time.

USM President Richard Pattenaude upgrades the light bulbs in his Gorham campus home one bulb at a time. A summer school physics student chooses to ride her bicycle to class instead of driving a car. A professor drops a requirement that students must submit all work in vinyl binders. Multiply the impacts of these individual actions by even a small percent of our large campus community and power plants burn a little less coal, Portland traffic is a bit better and fewer dioxins are emitted from the regional incinerator because fewer worn-out vinyl binders are burned. The positive impacts of these individual decisions add up to a better quality of life at lower cost.

Husky Fest offered such a decision point for me and I missed it. I didn’t do what was necessary to ensure that recycling containers for all clean paper and cardboard products and cans and bottles were in place next to all the “Waste Only” containers. The easy choice was to toss any unwanted item into the immediately available container. It is for this that I offer my apology. While some Husky Fest participants should be thanked for managing to find the appropriate resource-recovery collection containers located at my table or using the collection containers in the nearby buildings, hundreds of pounds of resources were misdirected to an incinerator, the resulting ash to fill a landfill that will eventually leak and threaten groundwater quality.

It is admittedly hard to envision throwing an American college party without making a bit of a mess. But there is a difference between a “bit of a mess” and the full-scale municipal waste that came out of Husky Fest. Feeling guilty looking at all the un-sorted material in the waste containers, I did a quick post-party sort to get an idea of what was missed and do a little after-the-fact damage control. This is a partial list of what I found:

* 221 return-for-deposit or recyclable containers (many containing several ounces of heavy, expensive-to-haul, unwanted-at-the-incinerator liquid-total value nearly 14 dollars in deposits)

* One factory sealed, factory fresh bottle of multivitamins (100 count)

* Four unopened bags of potato chips

* Over 100 pounds of paper and cardboard (75 pounds of which I was able to recycle)

* Two lightly used and undamaged, clean, blue, table drapes

* Two factory-sealed bottles of water (16 oz)

* 12 new USM bookstore bags complete with new student welcome materials enclosed in each bag

* Two Free Portland Metro Bus Passes (no expiration date)

* One rainbow-colored slinky (found slightly kinked-washed, easily straightened and now a favored toy slinking down the stairs to the delight of a three and a five year old)

* One Frisbee

* One perfectly good ballpoint pen

* One unblemished fresh orange

* Uneaten hot dogs, hamburgers, and other food items (decidedly not in original condition)

* One fortune cookie (in original packaging)

I apologize not because I forced the hands that so directed the above materials but because I missed an opportunity to reinforce better waste reduction practices at this important beginning-of-the-year event. First impressions tend to stick with us. I hope new and returning students will overlook my resource-recovery slip-up and make full use of the three material-recovery container options that are offered in university buildings. Making the wrong choice wastes students and taxpayers about 150 dollars a ton on hauling and incineration charges. Perhaps of more interest, particularly to those of us with respiratory difficulties or with children, the incinerator is upwind of Portland when the wind blows from the southwest.

Look for all three collection container choices at our next USM event. Please let the event organizers know of your concern if they aren’t available.

Oh yeah, the fortune in the cookie? It read as if written especially for Husky Fest:

“A chance meeting opens new doors to success and friendship.”

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