August 25, 2016

New approaches are designed to enhance sustainability

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Work is underway to enhance sustainability at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

As the fall semester progresses, students, faculty and staff will notice a difference in the placement and labeling of some waste receptacles. An ongoing pilot project at Lawson Hall revealed that when recycling and landfill/trash bins are placed side-by-side, people are more likely to properly dispose of their waste, according to Geory Kurtzhals, sustainability coordinator. 

She said her office conducted a waste audit during the spring 2016 semester and found that “contamination of recycling bins was 29 percent less in Lawson Hall and the placement of recyclables into the correct bin was 10 percent better there than it was in another academic building on campus.” 

In response to this finding, some recycling and trash bins have been relocated within the common spaces and classrooms in academic buildings. Some trash bins have been eliminated and others placed alongside recycling bins to encourage people to properly dispose of all items in the appropriate containers. 

“We hope this change will increase recycling diversion rates and accuracy and reduce landfill costs,” Kurtzhals said. She said bin placement in some University Housing and Student Center locations has also been evaluated. She’s hopeful that a new “eco-rep” program, for students living in residence halls, will help to encourage a culture of “green thinking” around campus.   

In addition, in conjunction with a comprehensive campus-wide recycling strategy, work is underway to create new color-coded bin labels and signage to more clearly indicate what items can be placed in each bin. The Sustainability Office and the campus registered student organization branch of AIGA, a professional design organization, are collaborating to create a new labeling system and signs for the recycling and trash bins. Leading the design work are students Brittany Hewerdine (junior, design), Pearl Franz (senior, cinema and photography), Austin Nunn (senior, art) and Savannah Myers (senior, art). Robert Lopez, associate professor of design served as the adviser for the group. Watch for the new signs and labels in the near future. 

Plans are also in the works for First Friday Green Tours. The tours will take place on the first Friday of each month and highlight the numerous “green” facilities and activities at SIU. Tours will begin at the Innovation and Sustainability Hub in the Student Center at noon on the designated days. 

Other sustainability initiatives will also be continuing and in some cases expanding during the 2016-2017 academic year. The Sustainability Fellows program, which provides unpaid student internships in the Sustainability Office, will begin its second semester. Students work 8-10 hours weekly on areas of focus that match the university’s needs and their individual interests. 

“It’s a chance for them to make a real difference while building professional skills and their resumes,” Kurtzhals said.  She said she is especially looking for some good students with an interest in sustainability to help implement new initiatives designed to reduce waste and expand green initiatives. 

Kurtzhals and the intern fellows will also be providing special programs in the Innovation and Sustainability Hub this semester. Sessions will focus on: “Greening Your Campus,” getting to know the Green Fee, composting, environmental justice, plant propagation for offices and residence hall rooms and other topics. 

The Ink Toner Cartridge Recycling program, which saved the university more than $12,600 since tracking efforts began, will continue as well. Essentially, the program collects unused ink and toner cartridges from around campus and redistributes them to other offices and units where needed. 

Kurtzhals notes that at times, people order extra ink for printers and then are unable to use them when a printer breaks or is replaced. This program shifts the ink to other offices where it can be used, saving money and working toward a “zero waste” goal. SIU employees can visit to see what new ink and toner cartridges are available for use in SIU printers. 

Meanwhile, the tailgate recycling initiative, a program that encourages recycling at home football game tailgates, will continue this fall. Last year, SIU tailgaters recycled a total of 2,780 pounds of items during the football season. 

The search for new ways to promote sustainability at SIU is continuous, Kurtzhals said. For instance, this year for the first time, the watermelon waste from the annual Weeks of Welcome Watermelon Festival on Aug. 21 was composted on campus. 

In addition, changes are being implemented to increase the visibility of sustainability on campus. A $10 per-semester Green Fee was adopted as the result of a student-led initiative and since its inception in 2009, more than $2 million in Green Fund awards have gone to 153 diverse projects. A “marker” is being designed and will be placed on Green Fund projects wherever possible to increase awareness of the sustainability ventures. The Sustainability Council has updated reporting procedures and selection criteria for the Green Fund projects to enable the SIU community to better assess the projects and their results. 

“While we know there are still things we need to work on, we have much to be proud of regarding sustainability at SIU,” Kurtzhals said. “We are constantly evaluating what we are doing and looking at the data and input we receive as well as the issues, and working to make positive changes and to create educational activities and programs that foster greater sustainability and an enhanced sustainability mindset.”