Tufts Gets Green

Office of Sustainability's Blog

Date: October 15, 2013

Zero Waste Challenge, The Penultimate Day

We’ve reached the last full day of the Zero Waste Challenge. How’s everyone feeling?? Is your bag still empty, or have you had to snag a second Ziploc to handle all your coffee cups?

So I have a bit of a confession to make. I haven’t been totally honest about following the Challenge. I chose not to put in the moldy Gouda that I tossed this weekend – you can’t put dairy in the compost, unfortunately. I also told myself that if I knew that it could be composted if a compost were available, it didn’t count – like the apple I threw into the trash at my internship in Boston or the paper towels I tossed aside in Eaton. I also composted one of those food containers from Hodgdon even though I wasn’t totally sure whether it was compostable… It looked like it! And it was only the second day of the challenge, and I would have had that smelly thing in my bag all week…

I promise I really have been trying, though. I ate a pear between classes one day and carried it around in a bundle of paper towels for hours until I could get back to my dorm and put it in the compost.

Something we’ve discussed around the office was that “Zero Waste Challenge” is kind of a misnomer. We’re not actually asking you to go waste-free for the week: we hope that you’ll be more observant of your own habits and aware of how carrying around your waste – taking the “away” out of throwing trash away – changes how you feel about it. When your waste sticks around, you start thinking about how you can reduce it, right? How could we produce similar results on a large scale? Establish a cap-and-trade system for waste? Set a per capita limit for waste and charge heavy fees beyond that? Require individual landfills in every apartment or backyard so that we all share equally in waste disposal? That would never happen, but you get the idea.

Many of the realizations I’ve had so far have been about our system of consumption and disposal and how it can trap us in or free us from vicious cycles. Like that time I carried a pear around for hours: wouldn’t it have been nice if there were compost bins available on campus besides just in dorms and the dining hall? Same thing with those paper towels in Eaton. Tufts uses mostly unbleached napkins and paper towels, and they can be composted, which is awesome, except that we generally use paper towels in bathrooms where no compost bin is available. Sure, we could carry our used towels around with us – but I think we’d be more likely to see more positive change in individual habits if we were enabled by the system, e.g. if compost bins were available in academic buildings and bathrooms around campus. What’s more, in many dorm bathrooms there aren’t even paper towels but those little tissues that get all peely if you try to dry your hands with them. Why can’t we install some hand dryers, simultaneously saving trees and the hands of poor students in cold and windy winters?

But I realize I haven’t even given you the breakdown of what’s in my bag. Let’s take a look:

  • Gum. So. Much. Gum. I knew this was going to be a problem going into the Challenge – I tend to go through about 4 pieces of gum a day. Most gum wrappers are definitely not compostable, and the internet is divided over whether gum is. I have no idea what my gum is made of – trust me, I tried to read the ingredients and left more mystified than before – so I don’t know how much of it is natural and biodegradable. (Then I start thinking, if it’s not safe to put back into the earth, why am I putting it in me? But it’s an addiction.)
  • Plastic bags - Many plastic bags can be reused or recycled in grocery stores, but then there are those super-thin crinkly ones that you bag your vegetables in at Stop and Shop or Whole Foods or what have you. I try to reuse them but they’re such a low-grade plastic that even washing it feels useless. I HAD a big bag from pretzels in there, but I learned I could Terracycle it! Who knew??
  • Lint. I wish I could have avoided this by hanging my laundry outside – it would have smelled like sunshine! – but such is college. The jury also seems to be out on lint. Tufts Recycles! actually wrote about this issue last year – they would not support composting lint. From the little reading I did online, I think I have to agree with them. If you know for certain that your clothes do not contain synthetic materials, that’s one thing – but most of us, if not all, can’t say that for sure. And any chemicals that end up in your compost will end up in the earth and back in your food or somebody else’s.
  • The plastic wrapper that held my two boxes of soap together.
  • Two hand wipes – I try to avoid these in general (these are the first ones I’ve used in at least a year) because water does the job just fine. Plus, with all the chemicals on them, they’re definitely not going in the compost – so they end up in the trash.

Let’s look at my progression over the week:

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For me, the big idea that comes out of this challenge – and something that has already been a huge part of my life, affecting the decisions I make about what I eat, wear, etc. – is that as individuals and as a culture we aren’t cognizant of nor willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our consumption. And not even just environmental either: Earlier this week we posted a Ted Talk by Van Jones, covering the complexities of the intersections of environmentalism and social justice. When we throw away our trash – or even when we recycle – it leaves our little corner of reality but it goes and pollutes someone else’s backyard or fills someone else’s lungs with fumes.  How about that nice blouse you bought from H&M? Do you know where it was made? Do you know how the people who made it live, or how much they earned? If you wear it three or four times and then throw it out because you get tired of it or it gets too ratty, is that doing any justice to the handiwork and materials that went towards its production and distribution? Or the chocolate in the cookies you just ate – was it produced through slave labor in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)?

I know this is overwhelming, but we as individuals need to acknowledge that our standard of living has consequences, usually not for us directly but for those without political voice or influence, for future generations, etc. I definitely have a problem with the environmental and social repercussions of my lifestyle, and I try to minimize them as much as possible. I hope our Zero Waste Challenge can move you towards doing the same – and together, I hope we can work for systemic change, because whatever we do as individuals, it will have so much more impact if we do it together.

~~Stina Stannik

Zero Waste Week: Day 5

My initial approach to zero waste week made the challenge very easy. For the first few days, I chose my behaviors based on my knowledge of the waste they would produce. I ate fresh produce, avoided foods in ambiguous packaging, made my own coffee, and only used tea bags that came without packaging. This approach was going smoothly until the end of the week, when I decided to clean my room. Cleaning up my room was a difficult reminder that my behaviors during zero waste week were not exactly typical of a normal week.

I noticed that there were recyclables and non-recyclables mixed into my desk side trash can. I had, on occasion, thrown paper products into this trashcan, despite that there was recycling bin no more than 15 steps away. There were a few other items which I was unsure about. Cotton swabs, Q-tips, and the waxy sheets of paper which stickers peel off of. After some research, I found out that cotton balls can be composted, as long as they do not contain any synthetic materials. I couldn’t find the packaging, so I held onto these items in my Ziploc bag.

At this point, my bag still contains a small amount of trash. I’ve taken to using the bag as a sort of limbo space for items which I know can be recycled, but not in the typical “paper, metal, plastic” categories. For instance, I’ve used the bag to hold on to some granola bar wrappers when I didn’t have the chance to teracycle them in the sustainability office.  I’ve found that the bag is a helpful reminder to recycle items that I might otherwise have thrown in the trash.

I’ve noticed that many times, when I do throw away recyclable items, it is for convenience. I always choose to recycle bulkier items, like cardboard and bottles, but I’ve found that I make less of an effort to figure out what to do with smaller, atypical items like  shopping receipts or food wrapping. I’ve found that the challenge has made me incredibly aware of my waste producing behaviors, and has influenced me to correct for those behaviors.

 

-Sofie Seiden

Assistant Professor, Sustainable Economies, Appalachian State University

DEADLINE: October 25th, 2013

The Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Department at Appalachian State University invites applications for a tenure-track, nine-month faculty position at the rank of Assistant Professor, beginning August 2014. A PhD in an area related to sustainable economics and community development is required. The field of specialization is open. Candidates must have a PhD by the beginning of the appointment.

The successful candidate will have the ability to teach courses in sustainable economics and alternative development and an active research agenda related to sustainable development.

Learn more/apply.

Center for Sustainability Building Research Director, University of Minnesota

The Center for Sustainable Building Research, a design, research, and public engagement unit in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, invites applications and nominations for the position of Director. The appointment will also hold a faculty title of associate or full professor in one of the Departments in the College of Design. The estimated start date is fall semester 2014.

Learn more/apply.

 

Sustainability Marketing Specialist, U North Texas (Denton, TX)

UNT Sustainability at the University of North Texas seeks to hire a Marketing Specialist II to join its team. The preferred candidate will be trained in marketing concepts, tools, and strategies related to strengthening UNT Sustainability’s messaging efforts. Such a person will lead UNT Sustainability’s efforts to further develop its marketing strategy, construct and implement messaging tactics, and craft and oversee metrics of impact.

Marketing activities will promote the overall vision of UNT Sustainability, as well as ongoing and future initiatives both on and off campus. To do so, the marketing specialist will develop messaging, design marketing materials, identify target audiences, and develop & maintain marketing tools.

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Sustainability Director, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Provide leadership and direction for sustainability programs at WPI; guide and oversee the implementation of the Plan for Sustainability at WPI, coordinating efforts across administrative, academic, and facilities areas, to reach sustainability goals. Provide expertise and position WPI as a leader in sustainability efforts on campus, in the Worcester community, and globally.

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