As the Co-Coordinator of CEC’s Green Events program, my job can be a little tough to explain sometimes. I mean, yeah, I have a whole spiel I can give people…
Green Events is a student-run project of the Campus Environmental Center. We offer free consulting and assistance to student organizations hosting on-campus events in order to make these events as environmentally friendly as possible.
…but also, sometimes it’s just easier to say something like “I help with composting and recycling at events on campus.” Straightforward enough, right? Sure thing- but there’s more to the story.
There’s a major lifestyle shift happening at UT. You can see it in our dining halls, in the Union, at Concho Community Garden and the UT Microfarm, and even at major student org events like Hindu Students Association’s annual Holi celebration. Our university, which produces thousands of pounds of trash each day, is moving towards a zero-waste future.
“Impossible! Ridiculous! Total greenwashed lameness!”
Okay, so let’s backtrack a little and look at what zero-waste actually means. For better or worse, zero waste doesn’t actually mean that absolutely no waste is produced by a household, institution or city. Most of the time, zero-waste indicates that about 10% of a household, institution or city’s waste is trucked off to the landfill while the other 90% is diverted through recycling, composting, and of course, simply reducing the amount of resources thrown out in the first place. Zero-waste also indicates a new consciousness about the effects of mass consumption and throwaway culture, and what’s more, the tangible benefits of rethinking waste diversion.
Of course, the transition to zero-waste isn’t easy- especially on a campus that plays host to tens of thousands of people every single day. But various student and staff groups are taking the first steps. Zero-Waste Coordinator Jennifer Hobson is overseeing these efforts, coordinating different stakeholders and helping to create a roadmap to figure out exactly how UT Austin will become a zero-waste campus by 2020. CEC’s very own zero-waste team is hard at work researching how we can make recycling and composting as easy for students as possible, while also reducing contamination. The University Unions, as well as members of student government, are pressuring on-campus food vendors to ensure that all of their packaging is either compostable or recyclable. And the Division of Housing and Food Services has created a robust composting system in all of its dining halls, giving students an easy way to keep their scraps out of the landfill and turn them into valuable fertilizer instead.
So what does Green Events have to do with our university’s zero-waste future? First, think about just how much stuff can get tossed in the trash at the student-organized events happening every day on our very active campus. For years our fundraisers and cultural celebrations have been stocking local landfills with free t-shirts, Solo cups, forgotten fliers, and most of all, heaps upon heaps of methane-releasing food scraps. The Green Events team aims to mitigate these wasteful, environmentally damaging consequences of the events that make our campus such a vibrant place to be. In my first semester on the Green Events team we kept over 400 pounds of waste out of the landfill. Furthermore, we can provide other sustainability solutions- from helping orgs choose locally-sourced food to minimizing paper used for advertising to loaning events a big ol’ water cooler, thereby eliminating the need for plastic bottles. And perhaps most importantly, Green Events can help educate students who may not normally be interested in environmental issues about the importance of waste diversion- and how easy it can be, too.
If you’re a part of a student organization that hosts on-campus events, consider making your next shindig a Green Event. We work with all student orgs and all types of events- although we do prioritize those that produce large amounts of waste- and can offer customized solutions for making your event as environmentally friendly as possible. Visit our website or Facebook page or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
— Lauren Hodges