Reducing Waste On Campus
Rhetorical situation: The exigence our team has chosen to focus on is the problem present with material waste on campus. While the campus does take some precautions in regards to recycling, our group believes it is important to incentivize students, staff, and faculty to recycle and reuse more materials on campus. It’s been estimated that a single college student produces 640 pounds of material waste each year, an estimate that includes 500 disposable cups and over 300 pounds of paper. If a conservative estimate of just 600 pounds is attributed to each of the 25, 897 students enrolled at UNL, a staggering 15 and a half million pounds of waste is still produced, a number which does not take into consideration the resources used by other members of the campus community.
With this in mind, our rhetorical audience includes the students, staff, and faculty using campus resources. Because we are trying to decrease material waste on campus, each of these three groups plays a part in the production of waste, and will hopefully be influenced by our message to recycle and reuse more of the resources that are available to them.
Our fitting response to this issue is to speak directly with the restaurants, coffee shops, and custodial staff on campus to find ways to encourage the campus community to recycle and reuse more materials. This may include a discount on coffee for bringing a reusable mug, for example,or seeing if a reusable bag can be included in the welcome packages of new students that can be used at campus restaurants (such as those in the student unions or Husker Heroes, Husker Hoagies, or Huskers On The Go).
The constraints that present themselves with a campaign such as this may include resistance on part of businesses to incentivize the campus community as well as resistance from the campus community due to inaction. Alternately, the affordances may include opportunities for businesses to save expenses on supplies as well as a boost for businesses willing to offer discounts to incentivize people on campus. Where the university itself is involved, eventually the cut in the abundance of waste could have an impact on the way university funds are distributed. Additionally, those on campus that consider themselves as environmentally conscientious would be motivated by their ideology to help promote healthier, more sustainable habits for the earth.
With our campaign, our team hopes to achieve less material waste being produced on campus.
Intervention: Many people don’t realize how much waste they go through in a day. Whether it be cups, paper towels, straws, or plastic lids, many of the things we use in an average day end up in a landfill, without us even realizing it’s happening. Since waste is so commonplace in our society, especially on a place like a college campus, we thought we would shed some light on how much material waste we go through, here at UNL. By contacting the different restaurants and food services on campus, we can get actual numbers about waste for UNL, as opposed to some national average. By showing students and faculty members the real numbers and amounts of needless waste we go through, we can hopefully make a large impact on our local community. After we have reached out to the different businesses on campus, such as Starbucks or Valentinos, we can compile a list of data to share with our community. In contacting these businesses, we hope we may also be able to open up the possibility of businesses offering discounts to the campus community when they bring something reusable for their meal, such as a coffee mug to the coffee shops, or a reusable bag to the Husker restaurants on campus. If we speak directly with the custodial staff, we can possibly attain data pertaining to the paper and paper towel waste and try to implement awareness measures meant for the campus community to take further steps to use only as much as they need and to recycle what they do use. A combination of social media awareness, collaboration with on-campus organizations such as ENACTUS, ASUN’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, and Sustain UNL, and classic flyer placement (though with the possible use of stickers in memorable places on campus) are our current plan for the structure of the plan. To make the campaign memorable we can use the sheer numbers available from current data to our advantage as a means of surprise.
Timeline: Before the presentation of our campaign at the end of April, we can divide the work of the project in this way:
- Week 1 (February 27-March 3) - Contact the restaurants, coffee shops, custodial staff. Try to attain data about current supply usage and ascertain their willingness to provide incentives to promote more sustainable behaviors.
- Week 2 (March 6-10) - Continue to speak with businesses/custodial staff if not yet finished. Begin compiling data.
- Week 3 (March 13-17) - Contact on-campus groups in order to see if they are willing to collaborate. Begin placing flyers/stickers around campus, promote campaign on social media.
- Week 4 (March 20-24) - Finish compiling data about business and campus use of resources. Continue social media work.
- Week 5 (March 27-31) - Check status of publicity efforts, see what can be improved/where to focus efforts to make campaign memorable. Continue social media work.
- Week 6 (April 3-7) - If necessary, create more flyers/stickers. Continue social media work.
- Week 7 (April 10-14) - Investigate habits of campus community to see if there has been discernable change in habits. Continue social media work.
- Week 8 (April 17-21) - Conclude by contrasting data before campaign efforts/after campaign efforts.
The labor across the weeks will be divided in this way; each group member will make contact with at least two businesses/organizations in the beginning weeks. Two people will oversee social media efforts, two people can oversee flyer/sticker placement around campus, and two people can work on data compilation as is necessary, with the possibility of movement throughout the campaign.
What Did We Do?
Originally, our group intended to focus on reducing garbage waste in the on-campus restaurants and coffee shops, such as the Runza and the Caffina Cafe in the Union. However, it didn’t take very long before we realized that it would be long after the semester ended before we would see any action on the part of the businesses in adding a lasting incentive to reduce waste, due to the amount of hurdles that any action would have to go through, both on the part of the policies of the business and the policies of the University. This was our first encounter with the dreaded “Red Tape” that seemed to plague almost everything that our group attempted to do when trying to work alongside the University. We scrapped this first plan of action and began to look at what we saw as more realizable goals.
We identified four key components that we felt were realizable: 1.) initiating a sticker campaign in the bathrooms of 23 buildings on city campus that encouraged the campus community to reduce paper towel use, 2.) applying for the UNL Green Fund and getting our message about reduced waste out on social media, specifically Twitter, 3.) creating an art project out of recyclable materials that had been thrown away on campus, and 4.) creating a petition and hosting a table at UNL’s Earthstock Block Party to get our message out to the campus.
Our sticker campaign, in our minds, was a more creative version of flyers around campus. Not only did we think it was more creative, we felt it would be more effective to have the message directly on paper towel dispensers as people used them than elsewhere on campus. We did not anticipate that it would be difficult to get permission to place the stickers. We were wrong. We originally met with the College of Business Administration, because the CBA has the sticker that inspired this idea. The CBA directed us to the Facilities Desk. When we got in contact with the facilities desk, we were directed to the manager of Custodial Services. The manager of Custodial Services did not contact us for weeks, despite our leaving multiple messages and calling her office at different times in the day. When we finally got in contact with her, she directed us to UNL’s Sustainability Coordinator. When we held a meeting with UNL’s Sustainability Coordinator, he told us he would forward an email about our message along to Facilities Planning and Management. We still have not heard back from him.
These are the mock-up stickers we made and submitted to the UNL Sustainability Coordinator.
Because our project was all about reducing material waste on campus, we decided to apply for ASUN’s Green Fund to supply students with free reusable lunch bags. Part of our proposal stated, “These bags are cheap, durable, and can easily be stored in backpacks, making them an economical solution to environmental concerns on campus. Another benefit to this project would be to raise awareness for waste reduction on campus, and it can encourage students to be more environmentally conscious. A large part of sustainability efforts is spreading awareness, and this project is an easy and relatively cheap way to do that, while still making a difference.” Although our application was denied, the members of the ASUN committee were encouraging of our interest to be more environmentally conscious, and mentioned that they had been trying to supply students with reusable lunch bags for years. Due to bureaucratic red tape, that policy has yet to be implemented, but they agreed that it was a worthy cause. Sustain UNL and other environmental groups on campus are working towards making this proposal a reality, and the Green Fund appreciated our efforts to get the initiative pushed through.
For part of our project, we created a Twitter account called Reduce Waste at UNL, the Twitter handle being @UNLGOBIGGREEN1 (or follow this link: https://twitter.com/UNLGOBIGGREEN1) On this account, we tweeted a variety of information regarding waste on campus. We posted everything from links to environmentally conscious events happening on campus, to information on how to be more environmentally friendly here at UNL, to facts about recycling and waste management. We chose to do a Twitter campaign to spread a variety of information to people on campus, and Twitter is way to spread information that is accessible to most people at UNL. Most tweets averaged at least two or more retweets, and therefore spread our message to a larger audience than was reached just through that account.
Another reason our Twitter campaign reached a larger audience is because our account actually gained attention from a couple RSOs on campus, including the Sustainability Committee and the group Green UNL. These groups coordinated with our account, sharing relevant information with us and tagging us in informational tweets about events that were happening on campus. They also reached out through this account to get involved with Earthstock, which was a campaign to inform UNL students about sustainability initiatives they can get involved in. We ended up getting a booth at Earthstock, and used our Twitter account to promote our booth and spread additional information about Earthstock.
The third component of our project was to create an art project out of material that had been thrown away on campus that could have been recycled. Originally, this was also something we waited for permission to do. However, we felt it would be more prudent to our project to gather the material on our own when the university did not get back to us in a timely manner. Our means were limited, so we took all of the recyclable materials that had been thrown away on one floor in one building on campus. The sculpture we made from it was a piece of visual rhetoric that we included on our Earthstock table, to show the materials that would have ended up in a landfill, even though they didn’t have to.
The final component of our project was hosting a table at Earthstock with the reusable bags, the sculpture, the petition, and information pamphlets. We chose to do this after meeting with the Sustain UNL executive team, an RSO on campus that promotes environmental friendliness. Unlike our many attempts to work with the university, our interactions with student organizations such as Sustain UNL were overall positive experiences. When we met with the Sustain UNL executive team they also expressed their desires and attempts to implement reusable materials in on-campus businesses. While we brainstormed ideas with them, it became clear once again that if we wanted to motivate the university to make any changes, we would have to go through a multitude of hurdles to convince authority figures. Even a simple incentive, such as rewarding students after using a reusable lunch bag after a certain amount of times, would involve plenty of red tape. Finally, we came to the conclusion that the best way to encourage any change would be to directly speak to students at Earthstock. By promoting the reusable lunch bags at our booth, we intended to gain student support for our goals, in the hopes of pressuring the university to listen.
At Earthstock, we provided reusable bags at no cost and asked for students to sign our petition. We ended up with a good number of signatures, as 90% or more of the students who passed by our booth agreed with our idea of having the University supply new students with reusable bags at New Student Enrollment Day. We ended up handing out all of the reusable bags that our group purchased to students and a few staff members, meaning that there would be some immediate impact on the waste issue. We also sent along our petition to a group sponsoring a sustainability curriculum on New Student Enrollment Day to help them with the already existing push for these reusable bags to be made more accessible to students.
As easy as it may seem, locating the reusable bags wasn’t necessarily simple. We spoke to a person working at Husker Hoagies and asked if they had 50 bags on hand at Husker Hoagies and they ended up only having 10 bags or so. After this, they directed us to speak with the people in charge of the cafeteria. After speaking with them, they led us to the Director of the Dining Hall of Abel Sandoz and he put in an order for 50 bags for me. That same afternoon, I picked up the bags and brought them to the Earthstock booth.
Evidence of Intervention
Our Earthstock table was the most visual thing we were able to accomplish with this campaign. We had the reusable bags that we gave out to passerby, our sculpture, our petition, and an information pamphlet about material waste and how the issue could be addressed. We created our petition in the hopes that seeing people interested in reducing material waste with the reusable bags would incentivize the campus to enact the policy in a more timely manner; we’ve been in contact with NSE organizers to give them our petition as they work to create a Sustainability Curriculum in the coming years. Many people that stopped at our booth commented about how helpful our message was to campus and how they wanted the reusable bag policy implemented. People also took the pamphlets that we made to promote our message.
Our pamphlet, from front to back.
Another of our more visible pieces of evidence is our Twitter account, with informational tweets, retweets on information of green activity and plenty of other examples of ways one could get involved with “going green.”
One of the informational tweets our account provided.
Reflection - What Would We Do Differently?
If we were to approach this project again, one thing we could do differently would be to start contacting people sooner, in order to account for the run-around involved in trying to accomplish things despite university bureaucracy. Doing this might have meant that our sticker campaign would have eventually reached the person it needed to, rather than being continually sent to and from so many campus faculty members. It would also have decreased the difficulty we faced in attaining so many reusable bags at once.
Another option would have been to avoid going through as many official channels with the project, as that ended up substantially limiting our ability to actually finish much of anything in a short time, even if it was simply placing stickers (at no cost to the University and with all benefits being for the University). Permission was immensely hard to come by, and being mired down in “Red Tape” was pretty unfortunate.
We would also not have gone the route of bothering with the businesses in the first place, as the time frame of getting anything implemented appeared to be far outside the scope of a single semester or even a single year. We believe that there should have been more focus on student support on any given project to help provide some pressure on the bureaucratic elements of our project, and likely should have begun getting petitions and other useful tools that we could use sooner, rather than a focus on awareness.
Reflection - What Went Well?
Interaction with students and other organization showed wide support for reusable bags and other green ideas coming from the attendees of the University, and signatures for our petition as well as assistance we earned from student groups was invaluable. The Earthstock booth reached a good number of people and allowed us to send our ideas along to organizations with more sway than we had as a much smaller group of students.