As the school year starts, waste management nightmares for many universities also begin. It is no mystery that back-to-school means a tremendous amount of waste will be generated, so many universities have implemented initiatives to reduce their footprints. Let’s go through what kind of challenges universities face and the programs they are participating in to make campus and, ultimately, the world a greener place!
Once students return to campus, dorms, cafeterias, and classrooms all open again. This means a flood of papers, books, cans, food, and garbage is waiting to be thrown out, not to mention the waste generated preparing for the school year. Universities are responsible for the majority of waste produced by the education section each year, which is quite concerning. Due to the sheer number of students on campus simultaneously, efforts to reduce waste can get overwhelming, especially if the university isn’t well-equipped enough to deal with it. However, many successful examples of waste-reduction efforts have been made and are currently being implemented! Let’s dive into a few examples!
Sustainability Programs at School
- On-campus thrift stores: Many universities have their own on-campus thrift stores where students can donate and purchase used goods (Chu, 2017). For students who love thrifting, this gives them another thrift spot even closer and more convenient than the nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill. For students looking to clear their rooms when moving-out, they may consider donating some pre-loved items for other students to discover.
- Food donations: Students may find large amounts of uneaten food hiding in their kitchen and cabinets when moving out. Instead of tossing the food, they can donate it to nearby food banks collected by the universities to reduce waste while helping the community. At Brown University, 450 pounds of non perishable food was donated to Goodwill and local food banks through their Clean Break Initiative (Chu, 2017).
- Eliminate plastic: Many universities use bamboo and other sustainable materials for cutlery to reduce plastic waste in dining halls and cafeterias. Some charge extra for packaging to encourage students to bring their own reusable ones from home. Others provide reusable bottles, straws, and cutlery sets in care packages at the start of the year. Hence, students all have access to their own tableware.
- Saving energy: In efforts to reduce energy consumption, universities have implemented motion sensors so that lights do not stay on when they are not being used (University of Waterloo, n.d.). Some universities have also added more renewable energy sources to their buildings, such as solar panels, to make good use of incoming sunlight (University of Waterloo, n.d.).
- Transportation: For some campuses, travelling on foot rather than in a car makes more sense. If students need to travel quite some distance, universities may partner with the city to offer bus passes covered by tuition so that students can take advantage of existing services and support the local economy. The University of Waterloo has created a self-driving shuttle bus that is powered by electricity as another way students can get around to their classes.
- Food sourcing: A great way to support local businesses is by purchasing from them. Universities may partner with local or certified sustainable food suppliers or produce them directly from on-campus (University of Waterloo, n.d.). It is not uncommon for schools to have their own community vegetable gardens! By doing this, schools can minimize their environmental impacts by preventing long-distance transportation of food from the source to our plates (University of Waterloo, n.d.). Some universities offer fresh food markets where students and staff can purchase fresh produce and baked goods from a farmer’s market, reducing emissions from transportation (University of Waterloo, n.d.). Schools may also offer entirely vegan or vegetarian options, lowering emissions from meat processing (University of Waterloo, n.d.).
- Preserving water: Water is a precious resource, and many schools upgrade sinks, toilets, showerheads, and faucets to make water use more efficient (University of Waterloo, n.d.). Using food-pumped sinks, for example, can also reduce tap water from running while students are not using them as they can simply step off.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways universities are trying to be more sustainable, which is very encouraging. If you’re heading back to school this fall, keep an eye out for some of the initiatives and programs your school may have that may or may not be on this list!
Chu, S. (2017). Moving Out of Campus: Sustainable Ways to Reduce Waste by Universities. The University Network. Retrieved Aug 15, 2023, from: https://www.tun.com/blog/sustainable-ways-to-reduce-waste-campus-move/
University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Sustainability: Our campus. University of Waterloo. Retrieved Aug 15, 2023, from: https://uwaterloo.ca/sustainability/projects-and-initiatives