Since 2013, WashU Green Ambassadors (WUGAs) have participated in a coordinated effort to welcome first year students and quickly get them accustomed to the campus’ sustainability culture. This year, a hands-on approach, greater coordination with the Residential Life custodial staff, and diverting additional materials resulted in significant increases in waste diversion from area landfills.
Highlights of Move In 2017
- Styrofoam and plastic bags were separated and collected for recycling for the first time.
- The weight of cardboard, which was separated and recycled as in past years, almost doubled (92% increase).
- Landfill waste was reduced by 4,260 lbs (17%).
- In addition to multiple dumpsters-worth of cardboard, a full 40 cubic yard landfill dumpster was eliminated by separating out Styrofoam and plastic bags.
- The overall diversion rate improved by at least 8%*.
How did we do it?
Strategic partnerships made this success possible.
WUGAs: Green Ambassadors are recruited the previous spring to return to school early for training and to assist with the first year students’ move in effort. This year, students worked together with custodial staff to pre-sort waste onsite at the residential halls, collapsing cardboard boxes and separating styrofoam and plastic bags from the landfill waste. Bags were color-coded to enabled the golf cart transportation team to easily move materials to the proper dumpster.
Housing Services custodial team: The hard-working custodial team received training the morning of Move In so they could adjust their sorting methods and understand how the student volunteers would supplement their work. The Housing Services Team has always done a great job separating the cardboard, so they were used to doing some level of sorting. Student support enabled them to make some small changes without having to waste time on the more tedious sorting.
Residential Life: WUGA Directors Kelli and Savannah worked closely with Residential Life staff to integrate the sorting process into the Move In program. WUGAs proudly wore the iconic “Welcome Home” shirts in a special shade of green to identify them as part of the sustainability team. Presentations and educational material were also delivered to RAs and WUSAs as part of preparation for the students’ arrivals.
- Waste Connections: Our campus waste hauler, Waste Connections, worked with the Office of Sustainability to deliver the styrofoam and plastic bags to specialized recyclers. The styrofoam went to Foam Products Corporation in Maryland Heights where is was put through a densifier machine and made into solid bricks that can be sold within recycling markets. Plastic bags went to Federal International who sells to a company that turns soft plastics into plastic lumber, which can be used in outdoor furniture and decks.
Wait – you can recycle Styrofoam and plastic bags?
Yes and no. There are many materials that can be recycled, upcycled or reused in different markets if they are collected separately and delivered to specialized recyclers. Examples include electronics, textiles, medical equipment, building materials and, yes, styrofoam and plastic bags. DO NOT put any of these materials into single stream recycling cans, as they will contaminate the standard recyclables (paper, plastic/metal/glass containers, etc.) Learn more about recycling beyond single stream at WashU here.
While there are many people to thank for this achievement, we want to especially recognize the hardworking custodial team who embraced the challenge of diverting new materials and working with the WUGA volunteers. They are the ones who ultimately remove all the materials amassed during student Move-In and they took extra effort to make sure things were getting to the right place. WUGAs had so many positive reports of amazing collaboration, but a couple of people really stood out for their outstanding work: Fatima Muratovic (Park), Mina Pilpovic (Park), Theresa McGeehan (Dardick), Angie Mitchell (Shepley), and Johnny Mitchell (golf cart transporter). A special thank you to you all!
*Pending confirmation of reported material weight from September.