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Promoting Environmental Sustainability: What We’re Doing Well, and What Needs to Improve

I recently took a course entitled Environmental Sustainability, and it had a strong impact on me.  Before taking it, I used to think about environmental sustainability on an individual level only.  I knew it was important not to waste any resources, whether natural or man-made; but I never looked at the bigger picture, the collective damage that we all are contributing to in some way or another… There is a direct link between our consumer economy and the deteriorating state of the global environment and acquiring the awareness empowers people to do something about it.

I wondered what Lesley University has been doing to address this issue.  So, I did some online research to get information about our environmental sustainability efforts, and I found that we have twice received the award for the “Food Recovery Challenge” from the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2015 and 2016.  I also learned about Lesley’s Waste Diversion, Energy Conservation and Sustainable Transportation initiatives.  But while this was certainly impressive, I wanted to find out how we, the students, could help to advance these efforts.

I met with Ed Fogarty, the Dining Services Manager; he has been working at Lesley for fourteen years.  He talked with me about the challenges he has encountered.  For example, he mentioned that the hard part for Dining Services was working with students to avoid contamination of the composting, recycling and trash bins.   Students are supposed to follow the signs displayed at the bins like “food only,” and use the bin for tossing the leftover food– but not the disposable utensils.  Unfortunately, that does not always happen.  Dining Services is slowly changing back to plasticware and paper products instead of the compostable ones; but the problem remains that students are throwing everything into the compost bins, whether it belongs there or not. (However, he did say students are doing a lot better this semester with putting items into the right bins.)

Ed further said that in the White Hall Cafeteria, it was just food waste and garbage; there are not many recyclables except water bottles, so everything goes in the trash. But the upstairs recycling, compost and trash bins are always mixed up.  For one thing, it was hard for the students to go to the bathrooms to rinse containers and bottles for recycling.  “So, the biggest hurdle is trying to get them to sort better, as there is a lot of contamination in the trash, even in the recycling stuff.”  The same also happens in the recycle bins in the offices where if someone throws a rotten apple in the recycle bin, it becomes contaminated and the paper and other items have to be thrown away.  Ed suggested it would be easier if there is a central recycling bin in a common area, instead of individual offices; that would eliminate the need for having to go into the offices.

Ed mentioned that at Bon Appetit, they do sort the plastic bottles and cardboard items for recycling, and they also do composting.  Additionally, when they have a lot of food left over, they call the organization “Food for Free” which collects and repackages it to give it to people who need it.  (As we read last week, the Commuter Food Pantry utilizes Food For Free.)

To my question about any trainings or brochures for staff and students, Ed shared that, “as of December 1, 2018, the people that take the trash away are no longer accepting plastic bags in the trash bin or recyclables; so we are going to have a whole training program about that.  Hopefully that will get launched before summer, before the new students come, so we are ready by December 1st.”

When asked about their long-term plan, Ed said they are “trying to continue to expand their food recovery program, and trying not to cook as much food so as not waste as much food and then have to worry about it. That is hard to do, as we know there are big events coming up or we are going to be busy at a certain time; but at the end of each shift, we do some kind of analysis of how much food has been wasted. That way we can avoid cooking so much next time.”

Over all, Lesley is committed to sustainable practices, and many of our efforts have been successful.  In a future article, I will be talking with students who are in the Environmental Club, as well as with the university’s Sustainability Coordinator, to look at what is working, and what we could all do better.

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