July Science Sandwich: Zero Waste and the power of student campus initiatives

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In July, CREA Mont-Blanc hosted Professor Courtney Carlson and a group of her students from the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources for a science-based study abroad experience.  The CREA Mont-Blanc team shared their scientific know-how with the group, and they returned the favor in the form of a two-part Science Sandwich event for us.  Read on to learn about part one, the school’s student-led Zero Waste Initiative.

Haub School zero waste
Logo for the University of Wyoming Zero Waste campaign © University of Wyoming 

 

Students tackle a campus-wide problem

What kind of waste does a university produce and how does it deal with that waste?  How can student involvement in the decision-making process have an effect on waste-related outcomes at the school and beyond?

These are the kinds of questions that Haub School students Zayne Hebbler and Sam Richins sought to explore when they got involved with the Zero Waste initiative at their school. Though the University of Wyoming was becoming more conscientious of their environmental footprint, waste was not one of their first targets.  Nonetheless, when the organizers of a large social justice conference on campus became interested in making their event more sustainable, the ball was set into motion.

While there were some waste-diversion actions going on, including some recycling and small-scale composting, the students involved in this initiative knew they needed to get a better idea of what kind of waste was being created on campus and how it was being dealt with.  The project required serious determination on the part of about 20 students who were committed to emptying dumpsters and taking a scientific approach to sorting through the trash.  They identified, separated and weighed different types of waste including garbage, food waste and recyclables, and were able to determine that the school was sending a lot of unnecessary waste to the landfill.

Presenting clear data to decision makers in order to enact change

Their next step was to present their findings to the school’s Board of Directors and then spur them to action.  They took a two-part approach to their argument, appealing both to the Board’s financial sense and ego: first, hauling away extra trash costs the university money, and in-house composting not only decreases that cost, but also produces rich soil that can be used on campus, thus reducing the need to purchase soil and fertilizers for landscaping.  Second, young people are becoming increasingly involved in the environmental movement and are looking to attend schools that are in line with their values.  In order to stay competitive with peer institutions (like the University of Colorado, Boulder), they argued, the University of Wyoming should be striving to stay on the forefront of this type of initiative.   Hitting the ball out of the park, the students not only succeeded in convincing the University that it needs to tackle this issue head-on, but the town of Laramie also became interested in their approach and is exploring the creation of a large-scale composting facility for the town.

Here at CREA Mont-Blanc, we can readily identify with their approach.  We believe that in order to take climate action, we need to increase our understanding of what is going on in the natural world.  Through long-term monitoring of alpine ecosystems, we can collect the data necessary to inform decision-makers and equip them with the data they need to make good decisions.  Zayne, Sam and their team of dumpster-divers needed to collect information to provide an unbiased view of how the University of Wyoming was dealing with its waste before going to the board of directors and to present their findings and make recommendations for action.

While our staff normally concerns itself with questions about what is going on in the natural world, and we appreciated the opportunity to broaden our scope of reflection to topics outside of our regular discussion.   Sam and Zayne’s talk helped us to question our own waste-related practices and also reinforced our belief in the importance of equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to make meaningful change in the world—one of the guiding principles behind our Climate Science in Chamonix trips.

 

Thanks so much for sharing your work and good luck with the next steps!

 

For more information:

An article in the Laramie Boomerang about the University of Wyoming’s Haub School Zero Waste Initiative

Our Science Sandwich 2018 program

More about Climate Science in Chamonix trips

 

Written by Hillary Gerardi

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