Zero Waste Events
Kristine Kubat and Jordon Silva stand by the first day's outcome from diverting waste to recycling and compost. The pile on the left is compost, the middle is recycling, and the cup on the right contains the trash that could not be diverted.
UH Hilo Freshmen Orientation Week this year became the first UH Hilo Zero Waste Event (ZWE).
With the help of the 2012 Freshman Class, Kristine Kubat and Jordon Silva of Recycle Hawaiʻi and Cam Muir the UH Hilo Sustainability Coordinator separated all of the waste produced during the breakfast, lunch, and evening events. The waste was diverted into compost, and recycling with the remaining trash sent to the landfill. The idea for the event came from a meeting that Cam had with Recycle Hawaiʻi principals to discuss ways that UH Hilo can partner with Recycle Hawaiʻi to help re-establish a recycling program on campus. The Zero Waste Event was organized by Recycle Hawaiʻi (Kristine Kubat), The Orientation Office (Lucas Moe), and the Office of Sustainability (Cam Muir).
Each day during Orientation Week the Kristine, Jordon, and Cam met in the Campus Center Plaza to stand by the trash bins to sort garbage and educate students and their parents about the available resources in our “waste”. The event was a big success from start to finish. The students and parents loved it with feedback like “It’s really cool that you’re doing this”, “Thank you for doing this. It’s really important”, “I didn’t know this cup and fork could be composted”, and “It’s actually fun”. Sure it was a bit of a drag to reach into the recycling bin and pull the muffin shrapnel that was mistakenly thrown in the wrong bin. Having gooey fingers is pretty small potatoes when you think of how out of control our landfill has gotten that we actually ship garbage, on a barge, to the continent. That’s right, we produce so much garbage in our beautiful Island State that we cannot handle it here and we have to burn diesel fuel (that we have to ship here) and create pollution to ship our garbage to a landfill 3,000 miles away! No make sense! The craziness of this situation is underscored by an event like this when we see how much of our “waste” can still be an important resource.
Looking our waste as an untapped resource is one of the keys. We need to think differently about our waste because so much of it still valuable. For example, we take our waste, most of which could be composted to make soil, to the Transfer Station, it gets trucked to the other side of the island and or shipped to the continent, and then on our way back we go to the store and purchase potting soil that was shipped here from the continent, because we only have an inch of dirt on top of the lava.
"Zero Waste" is meant to be a goal. The goal is that we can get to a point where all of the waste we generate can be diverted to either compost or recycling. 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". The important thing is not actually attaining 0.0% trash. The point is to reduce the non-divertable trash to as close to zero as possible while recovering as much usable resource from our trash as possible. With not too much effort, we have managed to divert more than 99% of all the waste we produced away from the landfill. This is important because we, as an institution, generate a tremendous amount of waste that is sent to Hilo 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 our local environment but also save thousands on our trash hauling. A very important part of this effort is recognizing that we throw away important usable resources. Instead of packaging our waste we can turn almost all of it into soil and other recycled materials thus reducing the need to cut down more trees for paper , mine more aluminum for cans etc, or import soil from the continent. Of course, as a University, we also have the obligation to educate our students about behaviors that will be more sustainable for our society.
The results for the week were more than 300 gallons of compost, 85 gallons of recycling, and 2 gallons of trash. Another way to look at this is 99.4% of all the waste that was generated during the combined Orientation Events was diverted to either compost or recycling and only 1/2 % was sent to the landfill.
The success of the event was the result of the work of the above as well as all the Orientation Leaders and especially the patience, understanding, and enthusiasm of this Autumn's Freshman Class and their parents.
This ZWE is intended to be the first of many such initiatives. We, as a campus community, can be inspired by the tremendous success of our 2012 Freshmen in this first ZWE. The goal is to follow up this event with a proliferation of such events expanding the effort to a Zero Waste Week, a Zero Waste Semester, and ultimately a Zero Waste Campus. We can do this and it might be said that we are educationally, financially, and ethically obliged to try.