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Reducing waste is more than just recycling and composting

Becoming waste-free was one of three environmental goals announced at January’s Board of Trustees meeting. UNC also wants to be greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050 and improve its water efficiency.

Brad Ives, associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises, said this goal is twofold.

“If we’re going to reduce waste, we can take what’s in the trash cans now and try and recycle or reuse all of it,” Ives said. “The other thing, that’s probably going to be our bigger challenge, is how do we keep stuff from going into the trash can in the first place?”

Ives said the second goal involves considering how purchased materials are packaged.

“Think of all the things that students get from Amazon currently,” he said. “Imagine if we could work something out with Amazon to not have those come in brown, cardboard boxes. Instead, to have them come in shrink wrap that we could recycle.”

Cindy Shea, director of UNC’s sustainability office, said the initiative’s first step will be launching pilot projects, targeting several buildings to significantly reduce their waste generation and waste sent to landfills.

“Sometimes when you’re in a classroom or a meeting room, there’s a garbage can but there’s not a recycling bin and there’s not a sign as to where the closest recycling bin is,” Shea said. “So, one of those strategies is to ‘twin the bin,’ as we’re calling it, to ensure that recycling infrastructure is as dense as the trash infrastructure.”

Ives said there is no clear deadline for achieving zero waste, but this year, working groups will establish five- to 10-year goals.

“Waste reduction is going to be a constant effort,” he said. “Trying to get as close to zero waste as possible is going to be something that we always pursue.”

Ives said UNC has already reduced annual per capita waste generated on campus by 12 percent since 2000, going from 569 pounds per person to 503 pounds per person.

Ives said there is always more to do.

“We’re currently not doing things like composting pizza boxes or paper towels in restrooms,” he said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out the logistics of getting that collected and taking it to a place where it can be composted.”

Sandrine Charles, co-chairperson of Students Working for Environmental Action and Transformation, said students can contribute to zero waste by educating themselves.

“A lot of people don’t bother reading the little poster that tells you what you can recycle or compost so they end up throwing everything away in the trash,” she said. “But most of the things you buy at the bottom of Lenoir are compostable or recyclable.”

Ives said everybody has to be an environmentalist given the state of the world today.

“We’re using scarce resources and we have a fundamental duty to the generations that are going to come after us to not use more than the world can restore in our lifetimes,” he said.

Shea said the zero waste goal helps people think about what they consume so they can better understand their footprint on the planet.

“We don’t have multiple planets to draw resources from,” she said.

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