Naba Ahmed | Mustang News

There are three options in front of you. You have to make a decision, but which one do you choose?

Landfill? Recycling? Compost?

Eric Veium makes the choice clear: when in doubt, recycle.

As the energy and sustainability analyst for Facility Services, Veium is on a mission to give products consumed at Cal Poly a second life. He’s leading the Zero Waste Program: a campus-wide initiative developed by Facility Services to make Cal Poly more sustainable.

Cal Poly currently sends 80 percent of its waste to the landfill and 20 percent is recycled. But Veium plans to have those numbers flipped by 2020.

“It is important to build a culture and community around this because waste is an area of sustainability that affects everyone,” Veium said. “Zero Waste is just another initiative that reflects the university’s commitment for sustainability.”

Currently, people on campus have a habit of throwing their items straight into the landfill, sustainability coordinator Kylee Singh said.

“There is going to be someone at the materials recovery facility who will sort through this,” Singh said. “We should leave it up to the experts rather than throw it straight into the landfill.”

This program is also a way to reach the goals set by the 2014 California State University (CSU) Sustainability Policy. Per the policy, Cal Poly must have a 50 percent per capita reduction by 2016 and must have 80 percent of waste diverted from the landfill by 2020. In doing so, 80 percent of campus waste will be recycled or composted by that time.

“In order to achieve the 2016 goal, we are really focusing on individual actions on campus,” Singh said. “We need to be making sure that people are putting things in the right places.”

Zero Waste in action

In Summer 2015, Veium came up with a new idea to help students understand where to put their trash. He started the pilot program for the nine Zero Waste recycling stations that can be found around campus.

“With the pilot program, we want to fail fast and learn quickly so that we have a much more strategic and effective campus-wide deployment program,” Veium said. “We want the campus community to have the option to make proper sorting decisions.”

While the Zero Waste recycling stations have made it easier for students to understand where to put their waste, environmental engineering sophomore Amara Cairns decided to take it one step further. Through a collaboration with Campus Dining, Cairns has created signs with actual waste products to put on the recycling stations. Her first sign has been put up in The Avenue, and she hopes to make additional improvements to future signs.

“We want to do a lot of educational outreach because everyone comes from different backgrounds,” Cairns said. “Some people are not even knowledgeable or conscious about recycling, so we are hoping to facilitate that.”

As part of its strategic plan, Campus Dining is also looking into reusable food containers.

“Currently, they have a single use disposable system where they take a salad, eat it and then it goes in the recycle (bin),” Veium said. “But with a reusable container, we can collect it, wash it and it will stay in the loop.”

Housing trash collection is another area that needs to be looked at. By decreasing the number of trash dumpsters, consequently, there will be less waste going to the landfill.

At Poly Canyon Village, there are two four-yard landfill dumpsters collected seven days a week and only one three-yard recycling dumpster collected three days a week.

“Over a week’s period, that’s 56 yards of potential waste going to the landfill versus nine yards of recycling,” Veium said. “We are looking to switch that so more waste is being recycled.”

Since Zero Waste is a campus-wide initiative, multiple clubs are involved. The program also has its own student-run organization called the Zero Waste Club, which Cairns will serve as president of next year.

One of its projects, which has been in the works for the past eight years, is to make the Open House Club Showcase waste-free. Booths were set up with recycling, landfill and compost stations to help anyone sort their waste properly at this year’s showcase.

Every club was required to send representatives to work the Zero Waste booths. If they didn’t, they were fined, Singh said. 

However, members of the Cal Poly community were not the only ones battling waste. Cal Poly hired a professional group called the Guerilla Gardeners to make sure people disposed of their trash properly at Open House.

Facility Services also hosts an internship program called Green Campus, where students create and develop energy and water conservation projects. Green Campus interns audit recycling stations and identify the amount of contamination — landfill trash that appears in compost or recycling or vice versa — to understand student behaviors when it comes to throwing away trash.

Zero Waste obstacles

One of the biggest problems is the infamous Starbucks cup.

“The cup itself is recyclable, but the lid goes in the landfill,” Green Campus Team manager and agricultural systems management senior Molly Barker said. “The proper way to do that would be to split them, but most times one ends up in one or the other and that’s technically contamination.”

While it may be contamination, Barker refers back to the motto: when in doubt, recycle.

“In the greater picture of things, throwing the whole thing in recycling is your best bet,” Barker said.

One project they are worked on was a competition between the six red brick residence halls, which took place throughout April, to see who could reduce the most water, energy and waste. With a metering system, Facility Services will be able to measure the amount of hot water and electricity. For waste, each bin is weighed and looked at to determine the level of contamination on a scale of one to five.

Sequoia Hall came out on top with a 14.73 percent overall reduction in energy use. Facilities “adopted” a polar bear through the World Wildlife Fund on behalf of Sequoia, a nod to Green Campus’ Poly the Polar Bear mascot. 

This shows a rankings for the electricity, waste and water reduction for the Red Brick Residence Halls. / Graphic courtesy of Facility Services.
This shows a rankings for the electricity, waste and water reduction for the red brick Residence Halls.  Graphic courtesy of Facility Services.
This shows a rankings for the electricity, waste and water reduction for the red brick Residence Halls.  Graphic courtesy of Facility Services.

Green Campus and Zero Waste Club collaborated on a waste audit where they took a bag of landfill from one of the residence halls and cut it open. They set up camp outside of the red bricks where they sorted out the bag and found that a large portion of it could actually be recycled.

It’s up to the students to take initiative and be informed on where waste really goes to meet the 2020 goal, Barker said.

“It’s going to take the cooperation of all the students who are here,” Barker said. “We are the ones producing the waste, so we are the ones who need to learn.”

Where should you put your waste? Landfill? Recycling? Compost?

The choice is all yours.

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