Green Events' Cool New Bandwagon: Zero-Waste

When was the last time you seriously considered recycling--or composting, or up-cycling, or completing minimizing waste all together by looking into “zero-waste” methods and initiatives?

Here at the University of Texas, and even in the city of Austin, earth sustainability efforts are not uncommon. From the numerous recycling and trash bins located across the campus to a full Earth Week event organized by the student-led Campus Environmental Center, reminders to be environmentally friendly are not hard to come by.

Ever casually tossed that empty water bottle in the recycling bin? Have you grabbed for that reusable water bottle, instead? Did you pack that lunch using hard to-go containers, instead of those plastic bags? Are you still using plastic bags??

Do you find that your green methods are becoming second nature, though? More specifically, are they becoming more subconscious than conscious?

The question remains. When have you last seriously considered earth sustainability methods or initiatives?

Maybe the public consciousness needs more of an active awareness of how wasteful it is and how to mindfully practice sustainability methods.

Green Events, a organization under the Campus Environmental Center (CEC) at the University of Texas at Austin, is a student-run consulting team for student organizations promoting sustainability awareness and the reduction of waste. By partnering with students organizations, Green Events has been able to offer free recycling and composting at student events and organizations’ meetings, as well as educate organizations about various environmentally-friendly products, food vendors, and advertisement methods.

Janna Newman, a senior Environmental Science major and Philosophy minor, is a Project Team Leader for Green Events and her passion lies within Green Events’ zero-waste initiatives.

“Zero-waste”, as defined by the CEC, is “the practice of sending as little waste to the landfill as possible...by reducing the consumption of single-use goods and otherwise opting for materials that can be recycled or composted.”

For Janna, “zero-waste” means so much more. “Zero-waste is a philosophical and applicable, as well as economic, concept. You try to copy how nature functions effectively. Nature cycles nutrients through its natural processes by using materials from one process for another process. It’s an endless cycle of nature. However, humanity has usurped this, and we don’t follow this process at all. We just shove all of our waste into landfills without reusing those materials at all. Zero-waste provides that up-cycling of nutrients and materials into products that we can either reuse again or by eliminating waste completely.”

Zero-waste does not even refer to the elimination of all waste. Through the diversion of thrown away materials into recycling bins, Janna explained that as long as the university and student organizations have a 90% diversion rate, the university has obtained zero-waste status.

You may be wondering, How is zero-waste any different from just recycling?

Zero-waste is more than just recycling. It’s about minimizing waste in general. Therefore, zero-waste attempts to “reduce people’s demand for resources and motivate people to use what they already have,” Janna explains. As a philosophical concept, zero-waste increases the consciousness of eliminating waste from one’s life, whereas recycling simply refers to the act of converting an object into reusable materials. Increasing consciousness through education is a key part of an zero-waste initiative.

Green Events pursues education and zero-waste efforts through its partnerships with student organizations. Some of the many events that Green Events has been a part of include the Longhorn Run and Holi. From Holi alone, Green Events was able to divert around 340 pounds of  waste from landfill.

Janna stresses the importance of earlier partnerships. If clubs organize events before consulting with Green Events, they run the risk of already buying non-eco-friendly materials that cannot be diverted, such as single-use containers, like wet paper cups lined with plastic.

What’s worse is that many organizations are not aware that they are making poor eco-friendly choices until after consultation with Green Events.

“The Longhorn Run, for example, is going to be using a lot of non-recyclable materials. However, we are working with them to create green diversions as a way to work around materials they already bought. The Longhorn Run already bought bananas for runners. We’ll have compost bins along the running path for runners to dispose of their peels as they run.”

However, connecting with other organizations at all is difficult. “I could reach out to every student organization on campus, but the likelihood that they will respond to Green Events is very small. We’ve done this before, and we’ve only gotten a couple of emails about,” Janna explains.

Green Events, as well as many other Green initiatives, rely on the engagement and excitement of student leaders and members to get their organizations making more green choices. Whenever Janna approaches students about Green Events directly, though, students are usually very receptive to Green Events and its mission. No one is especially hostile to zero-waste. Still, students do not take as much action as they should in terms of becoming more green.

Translating this enthusiasm into real action is impossible without conscious efforts from students to become more green and take steps towards being zero-waste.

Janna argues, “There’s a huge disconnect between consumers when they dispose of something in a trashcan and what happens to that material after. Once you throw something away, it’s just gone; it’s no longer in your life and you don’t have to worry about it. It’s not something that people are conscious of enough.”

To an extent, even Green Events flattens on this front of promoting consciousness. When partnering with organizations, Green Events volunteers to take care of waste for students during meetings and events, sorting and disposing of the trash themselves. While the effort is supposed to help create mindfulness by directly encouraging zero-waste during student meetings and events, it also takes away the green consciousness from students by shifting sorting and disposal efforts onto Green Events staff.

While Janna believes that making it easier for people to make green choices helps create a green consciousness, she does not disagree that Green Events’ efforts may also stifle a consciousness. Again, education comes to the forefront of Green Events’ and Janna’s message.

“Education is a super important issue, and it’s an issue that we’ve been working on with our Outreach Chair. We make educational flyer and brochures to hand out, and by talking face-to-face with people, we really get our information out the best.”

In its totality, Green Events prospers the campus by not only helping the Earth, but helping UT as an institution reach its stated 2020 goals. Since Green Events is committed to help UT become a zero-waste institution by 2020, every partnership they make from now until then is a step closer to creating an eco-friendly, zero-waste institution.

If you or your student organization would like to further pursue zero-waste and earth sustainability, please visit their webpage and submit a request for an event or meeting consultation. 

Every day this week, the Campus  Environmental Center will be holding events to celebrate Earth Day! A quick overview of their schedule can be found below.

 

Monday April 16: Naturalist 101: Central Texas Ecology at 6pm in JGB 2.216

Tuesday April 17: Trash to Treasure Sale from 9am to 2pm at the Gregory Gym Plaza

Wednesday April 18: Sustainability Tabling Fair from 10am to 2pm on Speedway Mall

Thursday April 19: The Sustainability Showdown at 6:30 pm (doors open at 5:30) at Studio 6A (CMB)

Friday April 20: Billion Acts of Green from 10am to 3pm on Speedway Mall

Saturday April 21: Waller Creek Clean Up from 8am - 12pm, meeting at East Mall Fountain

Sunday April 22: Earth Day! With local food and local friends at the Microfarm from 5pm to 7pm at 2204 Leona St.