University’s sustainability through the pandemic

Abby EpsteinManaging Editor

Valeria AraujoContributor

Gabriela CuapioContributor

Kiara SmithContributor

Due to COVID-19, the university has experienced a pause in its sustainability efforts as there has been an increase in single-use products and waste produced from packaged foods. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the SCSU community from being able to fully work toward a more sustainable environment. 

“It stinks. I feel like we–– not took a step backwards but definitely paused our efforts and it’s harder to restart again,” said Southern’s Sustainability Intern Derek Faulkner. 

Faulkner said the idea of stopping the use of plastic straws at the Adanti Student Center is no longer a priority. 

Through beach cleanups, virtual events, food service programs and facility maintenance, Southern has still been able to make multiple changes to stay safe and sustainable during the pandemic. 

According to the Office of Sustainability’s homepage, SCSU is a leader in waste reduction and recycling and part of a coalition of universities across the United States and internationally that have formally committed to climate leadership since November 2015. 

Daphney Alston, the assistant director for the Office of Student Involvement, said before COVID-19, clubs and organizations made small changes to adhere to the agreement. 

“For the past few years, we’ve been trying to find our place in being more mindful about sustainability and our impact just with simple things like with balloons during events, or using reusable tablecloths versus plastic or paper tablecloths, and trying to reuse things and items for events, not just getting rid of things,” said Alston.  

The fears brought on by COVID-19 have seen the reimplementation of certain single-use products that Southern had been shying away from in the name of sustainability, said Julian Saria, an intern at the Office of Sustainability.  

“Just today, I had a bagel and I wanted to use peanut butter, but you have to use the single-use cups because that’s all they really provide,” said Saria. 

According to research done by the International Food Information Council  in May 2020), 36% of people have been purchasing more packaged food since COVID-19 hit which can lead to more waste, something Southern’s sustainability promise is actively trying to fight against. 

 Interdisciplinary studies major Juliet Hryniszyn, a senior, has noticed that the university keeps up with sustainability by adding more recycling and trash bins outside due to the outdoor seating added because of COVID-19 

“They really enforce recycling and especially composting. I haven’t seen a lot of schools do compost waste. They have trash bins all over the school that specify which is which to make sure people are using the right bins to help the environment,” said Hryniszyn.  

 Alston said because of the circumstances brought by COVID, as of right now, safety and engagement is the focus of clubs and organizations over sustainability.  

“We’ve just been trying to figure out, on our own, how to minimize our impact and get creative while still making sure students get the services that they typically expect from us,” said Alston. 

Southern’s Geography, Environmental and Marine Sciences (GEMS) club hosted the East Haven Town Beach Cleanup followed by the Beaver Pond Cleanup during the fall semester. There was ample room to socially distance and create a healthier environment through direct action, while also engaging students. 

Due to COVID-19, transportation is no longer provided to the beach cleanups to ensure the safety of students. Charlene Cammarasana, the assistant director of fiscal administration at the Office of Student Involvement, said clubs and organizations, before COVID-19, could request use of SCSU vans for carpooling to events. 

“There is no travel funding right now because clubs are not allowed to travel out of state. They are not allowed to do overnight travel. They could do local instate travel, but they must get themselves there,” said Cammarasana. 

Lack of transportation did not stop the beach cleanups from being a successful and engaging event, according to GEMS President Shayla Peterson.  

“Surprisingly, we have had some of the best attendance at all of our events,” said Peterson.  

If people joined together to take action towards a sustainable environment, Sydney Peacock, a GEMS member says, one thing can be expected: progress. 

The residential halls found their own ways to keep up with sustainability: They give out reusable water bottles and reusable shopping bags.  

“Doing sustainability related programs and providing promotional giveaways certainly helps us draw attention to the initiatives and helps us to engage students who are also passionate and might have ideas of things they would like to see to make even more improvements,” said Marvin Wilson, associate director of housing operations.  

Events have been more sustainable, engaging and safe, according to Alston. 

 “For PB&J Thursdays, before we would maybe have to discard the bread because nobody has used it, or we would use a whole bunch of plastic knives, but now the PB&J’s are the uncrustables so we aren’t throwing away as much plastic or bread,” said Alston.  

Southern has donated food since 2017 to local soup kitchens, non-profit food pantries, and local churches. However, limited enrollment on campus has impacted the food recovery program, according to Southern’s Recycling Coordinator Heather Stearns.  

“I believe working together to achieve social and intergenerational equity is important in living sustainably,” said Peacock.  

Stearns said that Connecticut Hall typically generates 20,000 pounds of food every year. But with less food served this semester, there is less leftover food to donate for those people who depend on it.   

“That’s the biggest challenge. It’s just a sadness in all these COVID-related issues; that people that are suffering the most to begin with even prior to COVID-19 are now suffering even more,” Stearns said.  

Due to proximity, Southern volunteers previously brought food to St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen. Stearns said that they have worked with a church in downtown New Haven during the fall semester due to a temporary close at St. Ann’s.  

“They’re further away from campus so there’s more commitment for the students to get the food over there. Often it is really challenging to find parking,” Stearns said. “We’ve had hiccups along the way and COVID-19 certainty didn’t help the process at all.”  

Working hand-in-hand with the campus food service company Sodexo, they’ve been able to donate food twice a week. 

Less food has created less scraps for composting, which is converted to renewable energy. Stearns’ office collected data on tons generated: In 2018-2019, it was 43 tons compared to 34.5 tons generated in 2019-2020, which included the campus shutdown period in Spring 2020. 

COVID-19 has not slowed down the process of the university improving its sustainability and the university continues to strive to be a green power campus. 

According to Southern’s website regarding the energy master plan for buildings in 2014, the university spends less of its operation budget on energy, at 2.14 percent, compared to 2.67 percent, the average of the other three state universities.  

The SCSU community has managed to implement more changes towards a sustainable environment. 

“We must find a middle ground between those things: what’s a safe way to do it,” said Alston. “What’s an engaging way to do it, and what’s a sustainable way to do it.”  

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