Sustainability commitment continues
Izzy Mano – Contributor
Southern has been committed to using sustainable energy for the past decade, and through programs such as waste reduction and composting, the campus is doing its part to combat climate change and help the environment.
One of the things Southern has done to cut down on waste is implement a food recycling program. Every night volunteers and interns take uneaten food from Connecticut Hall that would normally be thrown out and repackage it. The next morning, the food gets donated to St. Ann’s soup kitchen.
Senior Joe Minor is an intern with the Sustainability Office and student worker with Chartwells who became involved with the program two years ago. He said he became involved with the program because “we’re diverting the food that normally would’ve been thrown away, we’re feeding our community, and it develops a stronger relationship with Southern and its wider community.”
“It’s such a simple concept,” he said. “If you have hands, it can get accomplished, and you can do so much good.”
Recycling Coordinator Heather Stearns said that the program has snowballed since it began two years ago. “We feel that it resonates with students and Chartwells workers knowing that they can take food off the line that’s still quality and edible and give it to those in need,” she said. “Lots of Chartwells’ workers live in the area, so it resonates with them to know that this helps their community.”
Stearns also said that from January 2016 through June 2018, 33,677 pounds of food has been donated to St. Ann’s, which is equal to 28,000 meals. “Before, St. Ann’s wasn’t receiving enough food and had to cut portions into halves or thirds. With the help of Southern, St. Ann’s actually has more than enough food to the point where people can have second helpings, or the food gets donated to another soup kitchen so it can help even more people.”
While Minor is an intern, the bulk of the workers are volunteers who are recruited through signing up at the Office of Sustainability or using apps such as SignUpGenius. People can pick when they’re available to volunteer, and Stearns found that once people volunteer, they get “hooked” and keep coming back to help.
A lot of students are not aware of the extent that food gets recycled at Connecticut Hall, which is something the Sustainability Office is trying to fix. “Students don’t know we’re composting because it all happens in the back after they put their plates away,” she said. “Know that at the end of the night leftover food that hasn’t been touched is going to someone in need. Once food hits your plate it goes to compost, which is good, but it’d be better if it went to food recycling.”
Geography major Dave Bakeis also works with the food recycling program, and as an intern at the Sustainability Office, and he has worked towards expanding programs around campus. “We’ve really used Conn Hall as a template to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “If we can incorporate representatives from other clubs and broaden our awareness we can reach more people.”
Bakeis hopes to expand the recycling program, which would include remodeling recycling bins around campus. Most of them only have round holes fit for plastic bottles, and foodstuff and plastics that do not fit in the bins end up getting thrown away.
“If you just fix the equipment that’s already there and make it more conducive to recycling, I think we’ll have a high success rate,” he said.
Another way that Southern reduces waste on campus is through composting. Blue Earth Compost in West Hartford supplies Southern with garbage cans for food scraps from Chartwell’s kitchen, and Stearns said that 45 tons of food scraps were collected in the first year. The bins are collected and go an anaerobic digester in Southington, where the food is processed into methane or used as a soil additive, which Stearns described as a “full circle.”
“We produce food in our community garden, utilize that food for Conn Hall, and then it could get composted and made into soil that goes back in our garden.”
While most of the focus on recycling is in Connecticut Hall, Stearns said she hopes programs such as food recycling can branch out to other parts of campus in the near future. “The plan this year is to lean heavy on the volunteer base and then once they’re trained, have them start moving over to the Student Center.”
Bakeis also hopes to expand sustainability initiatives by leading through example and spreading awareness. “A few people making a difference, that has a ripple effect outwards, and now all of the sudden you’re seeing changes,” he said. “When we as individuals start adopting new behaviors, we start holding friends and families up to these standards.”
Stearns and Bakeis both stressed the importance of student involvement, and they hope that current programs become more widespread. Students can reduce plastic waste by using refillable water stations located around campus, or they can use reusable bottles at places such as Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks and pay for the price of a small drink.
Acknowledging that most of what students can do to help reduce energy is by participating in trash and recycling programs, Stearns said, “I think students need to make good choices. We hope that students will take the time to make a decision about where things go.”
“We’ve done some damage to the planet and now we have to do some rehabilitation,” Bakeis said. “And it’s not like these actions don’t impact students now; part of the tuition and meal plan goes towards trash removal, and if you can limit that, why wouldn’t you? Doing something good for yourself, your community and your neighbors–that’s caring about the environment.”
Photo Credit: Palmer Piana