The close of the 2016/17 academic year was punctuated by wonderful celebrations of our graduating students, our amazing staff, and the exciting upcoming transformation of the East End of the Danforth Campus. As has come to be tradition at WashU, all of the celebrations were green events that sought to reduce, compost, and recycle as much waste as possible. Below is a synopsis of the positive impact these efforts had on moving WashU towards a culture of zero waste events.
On May 5, the historic groundbreaking ceremony for the east end transformation project hosted important dignitaries, generous donors and trustees, university leadership and others from the university community. The outdoor reception that followed matched elegant hors d’oeuvres with a conscientious approach to waste management. Refreshments served on china and glass left little to the landfill. Food and napkins were collected for compost and, of course, recyclables were separated as well.
The annual spring Commencement sent students into the world the right way – with thousands of family members and friends on campus to celebrate the graduates’ many accomplishments and with very little landfill waste to mark the occasion. Each of the 11 receptions were carefully planned to result in as little landfill waste as possible. Guests were surprised to learn that all of the disposables they were served on were safe to compost, even the plastic cups and utensils! Canned water is always a conversation starter, welcoming graduates to share the sustainability values embedded in university culture with their guests. This has become a tradition since bottled water sales were banned on campus in 2009. A comprehensive impact study confirmed that aluminum cans have the lowest environmental impact of the single-serve water options appropriate for hydrating the 15,000 people attending the commencement festivities. The end result of the green event effort: 1,769 lbs of materials were composted and each of the post-commencement receptions diverted at least 98% of waste from the landfill. In addition, hundreds of unopened canned water and plastic ponchos were collected for use by the grounds team, and Bon Appetit collected all of the serving utensils and platters for reuse, rather than throw them out.
The successful waste diversion effort is made possible by a collaboration between the Commencement Office, the Office of Sustainability, Bon Appetit, WFF and the Recycling on the Go team from local nonprofit, St. Louis Earth Day. We would especially like to recognize WFF for devoting 14 volunteers from their corporate office who collectively donated 56 hours helping attendees sort their waste at the waste stations.
On the Monday following Commencement, WashU staff enjoyed Staff Day, a day set aside to celebrate the outstanding work and achievements of Danforth Campus staff members. Activities include an awards ceremony, BBQ lunch, games and special programming, and ends with a Ted Drewes ice cream social and raffle contest. In line with the annual commitment to sustainability, volunteers helped attendees sort waste over lunch, resulting in a 99% diversion rate. 473 lbs of compost and about 85 lbs of recyclable materials were collected. With the addition of special compostable cups for the Ted Drewes custard, the compost collection nearly doubled this year!
Attendees also had the option to participate in special programming hosted by the Office of Sustainability, including a campus sustainability tour and a bike ride in Forest Park.
A special thanks goes to the waste station volunteers, many of whom volunteer every year to help sort recyclables at this event: Donna Bequette, Mary Stull, Tiffany Trautwein, Warren Davis, Kim Olivastro, and Laura Streckfuss.
Waste stations at events provide a unique opportunity to engage event participants in waste management education. By making responsible waste collection and sorting part of the festivities, we hope to provide awareness and education in a fun and approachable manner. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce waste and improve accurate sorting in a way that becomes second nature. To arrange a green event waste station at your next event, submit a form through the Office of Sustainability website.