Aquinas College aims to be a zero waste campus by 2014

Anyone who has ever been to a beer tent knows how much trash piles up by the end of the day. Large trashcans are usually overflowing with plastic cups and evidence of the massive amounts of food consumed with the beer. The scene isn’t exactly an environmentally friendly one.

Now imagine a beer tent serving more than 1,500 people and ending up with only two small bags of trash. Sound impossible? It’s not if the majority of the waste is recyclable or compostable.

For Homecoming weekend at Aquinas College this year, the Center for Sustainability there wanted to try something different -- a zero waste initiative. Working in collaboration with the Center, the Alumni Relations department and a student group called Students Driving for Sustainability (S3) spent many months planning ways to reduce the amount of trash that could eventually end up in the landfill from this event.

As a result, a beer tent that weekend produced only two small bags of trash. The rest of the waste was split between 16 bags of recyclable material and 12.5 bags of compostable material.

An 11-member, volunteer zero waste team was positioned at multiple waste stations throughout the campus for the Sept. 29 Homecoming weekend. They guided people on which items should go in the recycle, compost, or trash bins.

Prior to Homecoming weekend, the team contacted every vendor and asked that the items they used be either recyclable or compostable.

“We ended up composting or recycling 95 percent of the waste that day,” says the Center’s Program Director, Jessica Eimer.

Another waste eliminating effort the Center for Sustainability initiated was to reduce the amount of Homecoming weekend communication materials printed. An event app was created for attendees instead of a multiple-page printed program, with technical training provided to those who needed it. Mailings were cut to a fourth of what they were in previous years and Eimer says reducing overall paper use is a big focus throughout the campus. 
Aquinas currently has one of the most aggressive zero waste initiatives among colleges across the nation. As a part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, they had originally committed to becoming a zero waste campus by 2020. Confident about their sustainability program, the campus has now bumped up that deadline to 2014.

Their zero waste team plans to work in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students to reduce waste by 25 percent each semester for the next two years through education and campus-wide composting and recycling efforts. A zero waste website is being developed as well.

Eimer says the zero waste initiative is “an opportunity to educate the campus community on how to compost and recycle waste properly.”

Zero waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, means that 90 percent or more of the waste is diverted from the landfill or incinerator and recycled or composted instead.

“We are aiming to get to as close to 100 percent as possible,” says Eimer.

She believes that zero waste education, along with making it easier for people to compost and recycle, will play an important role in changing the culture at Aquinas and allow them to meet their 2014 goal.  

To find out more about the Zero Waste Initiative at Aquinas and support this effort:

-    Visit the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College online to find out more.
-    Donate to the Zero Waste Initiative at Aquinas. Your contribution will help cover the cost of additional collection containers, educational efforts, and the on-going waste audits. Make checks payable to Aquinas College and mail to Jessica Eimer, 1607 Robinson Rd. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.

Source: Jessica Eimer, Program Director, Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by the Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College.
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