Introducing the Zero Waste Team at DU

An Interview with Upcoming Zero Waste Team Manager: Hannah Wallace

Q: How did the Zero Waste Team start?

A: The Zero Waste team started about five years ago with Megan Lane Marshall who wanted to pilot an initiative for a Zero Waste team for Hockey. She noticed how much of the trash was going straight to the landfill and she talked to Chad King about the program. By the time Marshall spoke to a DU Alumni, Kaela Martins, about taking over the program for Zero Waste, the group already spread across to Sodexo and Facilities. Eventually, the program expanded to Lacrosse, Soccer, Basketball, Gymnastics, etc.

The Zero Waste team started by recruiting people who worked at the center for sustainability who were passionate about waste in the environment. Eventually, they began recruiting at the Environment for Sustainability Living and Learning Communities (ESLLC).

So, for instance, I started volunteering for Zero Waste for my project for the ESLLC and got volunteer hours. Selene McConachy, Maddie Ober, and Mellik Gorton (Mel) also came from the ESLLC and eventually ended up working at the Center for Sustainability. With Selene McConachy graduating, I will be taking up the Zero Waste team lead next year.

Q: Can you describe what programs the Zero Waste Team does? And how it impacts the environment?

A: There is a procedure for those who work on the Zero Waste Team to memorize which includes set up and working during and after the game.

With Hockey, if we have volunteers, or interns we have them stand behind the bins to help direct others where to throw away their trash (or goalie). As a lead, I do not work the bins anymore except Lacrosse which everyone goalies for. We go around and sort the bins and put them in their correct places: landfill, recycling, compost, etc. This lowers the amount of pounds of trash which are placed in the wrong container. We count the pounds are going into the landfill, recycling, compost and do so throughout the game. We also have a training board for “bowlpick” which is a third party company that cleans up the entire stadium so we train them about what to put in each bag, and after that we weigh each of the categories: landfill, recycling, and compost to see how much we have diverted from the landfill. This goes for the concourse, each concession, gold club, special events rooms, and the stadium.

Q: Can you describe the pound system? And what does a good day look like or a bad day for you?

A: We take all weight of all the stadium and put it into an entire sheet and so that gives up the number of pounds for compost, recycling, and landfill and also gives us percentages of how much was compost, recycling, and landfill and calculated as percentages diverted from the landfill. We have a bunch of sheets and reports that we do and we send those sheets to Sodexo and Facilities to keep an understanding of the situation.

Q: So you keep these organizations (Sodexo and Facilities) in check?

A: No, I would not say we are keeping them in check we are all working to keep DU a zero waste community. We work with Athletics, Sodexo and Facilities and say “here we had a good day we had 90% of trash diverted which basically means zero waste, tell your employees to keep it up.”

Q: So the 90% diversion rate means that you diverted 90% of what could have been alternative choices of disposal instead of landfill?

A: Yes, so the 90% is the diverted rate of what we diverted from landfill to recycling. 90% and above is defined as “zero waste” even though it is not 100%; that diversion rate it is very difficult to accomplish since there are some things that are used at the stadium that are single-use items. We are trying to standardize the types of utensils, plates, and napkins used by the gold club and things like that. There are some cups that are compostable instead of recyclable. And by standardizing these items, it would be easier for patrons to distinguish which items go where.

Q: If you were to estimate how much the diversion rate is annually from this team would that number be fairly high?

A: Yes, so we record the weight before and after sorting. We even have test games where we would not sort at all throughout the game and will just let people put it where they think it goes. There are signs on the bins and there are signs in concessions in the back where everyone is cooking. And we have pictures. During those games we observe how many people mistake compost for recycling on this particular item. We weigh this amount, and then we sort. And we see how much it goes up.

Recently, at a hockey game, we did this same test game and the diversion rate was high at like 53% and after we sorted, it went up to 80-85%. So I definitely think that the Zero Waste is impacting the diversion rate and impacting the stadium. I think one of the highlight games, the diversion rate without interference was like 20% and so now we have games where we have 90% or even higher than that.

Q: Where do you see the Zero Waste Team going?

A: So, ideally, I would like to see all zero waste going to all sports events. Even ones that don’t have a high attendance rate because they still do have trash. We already have so much work with the sports that we do now, I’m not saying that they don’t matter. But we go to those which would have a higher diversion rate. Ideally, I would love to train people just to work those games and have a general training to reach more audiences, I don’t know if that would happen but ideally would be good.

Q: What are the most commonly confused items what would you list?

A: I’m already punked up cause I love trash. One of the most commonly confused items are receipts which everyone thinks “oh this is paper this goes in recycling” but it actually has a special wax paper and cannot be recycled so it actually goes to the trash.

Another one, depends on which silverware you use on campus can be compost or recyclable. One thing that I learned from Martins is that if it bends, then its compostable. This is only for on campus by the way. On campus we have compostable ones that are beige which are compostable and sometimes black. If they do not snap, they are compostable.

Also another one, napkins, I see so many people who put their napkins in recycling. If its covered in food its compostable, and most napkins are compostable. If it doesn’t have any food on it, then it is recyclable.

Q: If someone were to ask how can they be involved with the Zero Waste Team who would you refer to them to? And what would they do?

A: I would ask them to reach out to myself or the Center for Sustainability. What they would do, depending on the games, they would really be sorting through trash. We do give gloves of course, we do give trainings. Before the game starts, we take out another training board and we explain everything that is going to be in the stadium in addition to common outside trash. We go over what is compostable and what is recyclable, and landfill. We go through procedures like having one person to stay at a bin at all times.