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New Students Welcomed to WashU’s Sustainability Culture

Students pose in front of recycling compacter. They stand amidst trash that has yet to be sorted.

The class of 2025 is the largest and most diverse class in the history of the institution. A record 1,987 first-year students have joined our vibrant campus, and we look forward to the richness they will bring to our community. First-year students were met warmly by Washington University Student Associates (WUSA) and offered professional assistance by movers as they unloaded boxes and suitcases to move in to their new homes. Students were also welcomed by Washington University Green Ambassadors (WUGA) after meals at the waste-sorting stations covered by bright blue tents situated in carefully selected dining locations across campus. 

Before the pandemic, move-in for first-year students occurred all-at-once and was followed by a couple days of orientation. This year, first-year move-in happened across a few days to help control the flow of people on campus and was followed by a full week of planned events. 

Each day of move-ins, WUGAs were stationed by the nearest compactor, sorting through piles of cardboard, Styrofoam, and plastic, working toward removing any items that could be recycled. Maya Tsingos, WUGA director, commented that “move-in waste sorting was definitely a feat of scheduling and many moving parts, and I couldn’t have done it without the group of over 20 [student volunteers] who came out to campus everyday to sort through the bags of recycling to help decontaminate our waste streams.”

The WUGAs worked closely with the amazing Housekeeping team who would drop off cartloads of move-in trash by the compactors. “Of course, I could never forget the Housekeeping staff we worked alongside with (shoutout Sam and Jason): they kept us sane and having a good time,” Maya shared. 

It’s hard to say what orientation looked like in “normal times” since the format had been revamped the year before the pandemic hit. Referring to Bear Beginnings: Fall Welcome, Katharine Pei, Director of the First Year Center shared that “we changed the Fall Welcome model in 2019 and were unable to replicate it in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID-19. As we look forward, it’s possible the model used in 2022 may not look like pre-COVID times.”  

Katharine also mentioned that Fall Welcome generally has larger-scale indoor events than were possible this year. Several accommodations had to be made due to campus COVID guidelines, including outdoor events and dining. Sophomore Welcome was also a new offering this year to address the unusual first-year experience for that class. A men’s soccer game followed a tailgate dinner and the orientation week concluded with Party in the Park, an outdoor concert featuring local music and local snacks. Convocation had traditionally taken place in the Athletic Complex Field House, hosting both students and their families; this year, Convocation took place at the end of Fall Welcome in the Quad with only students.  

We would be remiss not to talk about the Chancellor’s Welcome which involved ordering 4,000 cups of Ted Drewes’ ice cream. Ted Drewes is not typically served in compostable cups, so in keeping with the goal of zero waste university events, the First Year Center reached out to the Office of Sustainability to coordinate with the company. OOS helped with the purchasing of compostable ice cream cups and lids and had them delivered to Ted Drewes, as well as having compostable wooden spoons available at the event.  

“We are grateful for the partnership and support of Sustainability during move-in and orientation. The staff and student volunteer support to provide both education and waste diversion help to ensure that new students and families can be introduced to the WashU commitment towards sustainability.” 

Katharine Pai

The Office of Sustainability also worked directly with Dining Services’ catering team to attempt to minimize the amount of landfill-bound plastic waste at the special dining events. At every large dining event, WUGAs and OOS staff were educating new students and helping them separate out which items were landfill, recycling, and compost. Students do not have such waste-sorting help during their daily meals in the university’s dining facilities, so education from the very beginning is key to minimize contamination rates. WFF staff are great sustainability partners: setting up the waste stations, doing rounds to make sure filled bags are carted off, and taking down the stations to put back in storage.  

Our hope is that these activities build a culture of sustainable practice in our incoming students and continue to grow sustainability across the university. Maya shared a final thought, “It’s always so great being able to meet all the first-years and sophomores during move-in and orientation events: I made some meaningful first connections, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them get involved in sustainability at WashU.”