Ohio State is working towards becoming a zero-waste campus — but the university’s timeline isn’t quite in the green.
Though the university has made strides toward eliminating waste, new student influxes and changing regulations may slow down its progress, Carlos Lugo, program manager of sustainability for the Office of Student Life, said.
In order to consider an establishment “zero waste,” 90 percent or more of its waste must avoid landfills through other forms of allocation, such as reduction, reuse, recycling and composting, Nicole Holman, assistant director of university marketing and communications, said in an email.
Holman said the university began initiatives to reduce waste at Ohio Stadium in 2011 and the Schottenstein Center in 2014, campus’ largest sport centers. According to the Facilities Operations and Development website, about 75 sets of recycling and compost bins took the place of every trash can at Ohio Stadium in 2011. In 2014, several recycling bins were added to the Schott to secure organic materials, according to previous reporting from The Lantern.
Lugo said two obstacles in achieving zero waste by 2025 at Ohio State include the increasingly stringent restrictions that recycling companies place on acceptable material and the constant influx of students who are unaware of the program’s efforts.
Companies require lower levels of contamination as their guidelines change, Lugo said. If this food waste becomes too extensive, a good deed has just become a complicated one.
Lugo added that the process may be prolonged as thousands of new students enter Ohio State every year and may be unaware of the zero-waste initiative.
According to a study performed in December 2017 by the Center of Student Life, environmental wellness has increased on campus since initiatives began with Ohio Stadium in 2011. The center found that of random student survey samples measuring behaviors and attitudes taken in both 2015 and 2017, evaluated environmental wellness experienced a “statistically significant increase” represented by a change of 4.01 to 4.07 out of five.
Now, several other areas of the university have engaged in an effort to fulfill the program’s goals, Holman said. For example, the success of the pilot hand dryer program in 2018 reduced paper towel waste in 11 buildings around campus over the past year.
This objective has “diverted more than 160 tons of waste from landfills [as] Facilities Operations and Development (FOD) is looking to start a second pilot this fall,” Holman said.
Holman said FOD educates both students and other university departments by providing resources to those who want to host a zero-waste event, and 25 events transformed nearly half a ton of traditional garbage to compost this past year.
Lugo said education acts as a large part of the battle against mindless waste.
“Some students are very passionate about it, they’re on board, but another larger group of students are not aware of what is going on,” Lugo said.
To encourage as much awareness as possible, Lugo said he and his department try to make resources unavoidable. For instance, during move-out this past year, Goodwill bins were waiting outside residence halls for students to donate unwanted items instead of disposing of them, and because of this, Ohio State “collected 40,000 pounds of donated items,” Lugo said.
In addition, Lugo said students can find the sustainability team delivering a walk-by education several times a week in various buildings.
While both Lugo and Holman said they are excited to witness the initiative’s progress, assurance of its fulfillment by the proposed deadline remains unclear.