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UH Hilo’s first Zero Waste Event is a huge success

Kristine Kubat (left) and Jordan from Recycle Hawai‘i stand proudly outside UH Hilo’s Campus Center Plaza with the resource recovery of breakfast waste from the first day of Orientation Week.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is conducting a Zero Waste Event on campus this week during Orientation. Cam Muir, biology professor and chair of UH Hilo’s Energy Savings and Sustainability Committee, announced Monday that the waste reclamation results on the first day of the event were 55 gallons of compostable materials, eight gallons of recyclables, and one-half pint of trash.

“The success of the event so far is the result of the work of the organizers as well as all the Orientation Week leaders and especially the patience, understanding, and enthusiasm of the freshman class and their parents,” says Muir. “Numerous students and their parents thanked us for the effort and virtually everyone got into the learning aspects, with some passing the learning forward to their new friends.”

The event is organized by Kristine Kubat of Recycle Hawai‘i, Lucas Moe of UH Hilo’s orientation office, and Muir of UH Hilo’s Office of Sustainability.

Muir says “zero waste” is meant to be a goal where all the waste generated at UH Hilo can be diverted to either compost or recycling. He says attaining this goal depends not only on the effort it takes to sort waste “at the bin,” but also begs effort at the “point of purchase.”

“I don’t think the important thing is actually attaining zero percent trash,” he says. “I believe the point is to reduce the non-divertible trash to as close to zero as possible while recovering as much useable resource from our trash as possible.”

Much can be accomplished with minimal effort. As this week’s Zero Waste Event shows, 96 percent of all waste has been diverted away from the landfill. Muir says this is important because as an institution, UH Hilo generates a tremendous amount of waste that is sent to Hilo’s landfill.

“If we can divert a large amount of that waste we can not only ameliorate the negative effects that UH Hilo is having on our local environment but also save thousands on our trash hauling,” he says.

Muir notes that an important part of the zero waste effort is recognizing that much of the trash generated at the university is actually usable resources. Instead of packaging the waste, almost all of it can be turned into soil and other recycled materials, thus reducing the need to cut down more trees for paper, mine more aluminum for cans, or import soil from the continent, he says.

“Of course, as a university, we also have the obligation to educate our students about behaviors that will be more sustainable for our society,” Muir says. “Seeing the response this week from our new students and their parents, the teacher in me has been singing!”

Muir hopes this will be the first of many such initiatives and that as a campus community, UH Hilo will be inspired by the tremendous success of the new freshmen in this first Zero Waste Event.

“My goal is to follow up this event with a proliferation of such events,” he says. “I also hope to expand the effort to a Zero Waste Week, a Zero Waste Semester, and ultimately a Zero Waste Campus. I believe we can do this and I believe that we are educationally, financially, and ethically obliged to try.”

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