Isabella Hoffman, Emilie Johnson, Annika Furr and Kelly Simms Credit: Courtesy | Annika Furr

A group of Cal Poly students led by graphic communication junior Annika Furr are creating a virtual training program called “Refuse, Reduce, Recycle” for incoming freshmen to educate them on personal sustainability practices.

The training, which can be taken by any Cal Poly student or faculty member, will teach individuals how to live a more sustainable lifestyle and how to properly recycle, according to Furr.

Furr, who works for Cal Poly’s Inter Housing Council (IHC), said she was inspired to create the training after Zero Waste Program Coordinator Anastasia Nicole spoke to IHC in Fall 2019. Nicole discussed how to make IHC events more sustainable, and she mentioned that she was trying to create an online training and was looking for assistance to get it started, Furr said.

“In reality, prior to this, I didn’t know anything about environmentalism or sustainability or recycling, but after [Nicole] spoke to us, I became super motivated to be better about it,” Furr said. “I went straight to my roommates and told them what can go in the trash and recycling and what can’t.”

Many students who come to San Luis Obispo from the Bay Area or Southern California may not realize that the city’s recycling guidelines vary from their hometowns, Furr said.

“Recycling plants [in those areas] will separate a lot of the waste for you, whereas in San Luis Obispo, it’s a lot stricter,” Furr said. “For example, if there are any food scraps on your recycling, it isn’t recyclable and it goes straight to waste.”

The main goal of the sustainability training is to teach students about the waste hierarchy, Furr said. This means that individuals should prioritize reducing or “refusing” the use of disposable items, reuse what items they can and recycle the items that cannot be reused. 

The training will include three major sections: the first will explain the waste hierarchy and the meaning of the phrase “refuse, reduce, recycle,” the second will feature general sustainability tips such as turning off lights and unplugging cables to conserve energy and the third will educate people on the correct ways to recycle.

Furr teamed up with landscape architecture sophomore TJ Samojedny who serves as a Cal Poly Zero Waste Ambassador, to ensure the information provided in the training is accurate and aligns with the university’s zero waste goals.

As a Zero Waste Ambassador, Samojedny attends university events where he is responsible for educating event attendees on proper recycling and composting practices to ensure waste is sorted correctly in order to divert unnecessary waste from landfills.

Although about 70 percent of waste produced in the United States is recyclable, only 30 percent is actually recycled with the rest ending up in landfills, most likely due to a combination of improper sorting of waste, contamination of recyclable items and a lack of participation in recycling from some individuals. 

Cal Poly has previously been recognized for its various sustainability efforts, such as producing a quarter of the university’s electricity through solar energy and its composting program. The university has also won awards for its sustainability programs in a statewide competition in 2018.

However, Samojedny said he believes there is still more work to be done.

“I think that [Cal Poly] students have the right mindset about sustainability, and I think for the most part everyone wants to help make our campus community more green,” Samojedny said. “But I think there are a lot of areas, particularly [regarding residential waste and campus dining] that need more improvement.”

In addition to Samojedny, Furr was able to recruit several other students from a variety of majors — from business administration to political science to art and design — to get involved in the project.

“It’s great because, through this project, we’re also getting a lot of allies for the cause in general, which has a really big impact — even just as much as the training might have,” Furr said.

The training was released on Sept. 1 through a link that can be accessed with a Cal Poly email address. The students are hoping to have the training mandated by President Armstrong, according to Furr. 

Cal Poly’s Facilities Energy, Utilities and Sustainability department supports the training, according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier.

“In addition to hearing about the overall importance of recycling, it is important for our new students to learn the particulars of recycling locally,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.

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