Marking the first anniversary of Chancellor Carol Folt’s Three Zeros Environmental Initiative, sustainability at UNC has flourished through efforts to refocus goals of net zero waste to landfills, zero greenhouse gas emissions and zero water usage.
Anna Wu, the associate vice chancellor for facilities services, said the University has been working hard to increase recycling on campus by adding new single-stream recycling bins to the Environment, Health and Safety Building, McColl Building and McCorkle Place.
“You’ll see a recycling — a single-stream recycling — next to a trash receptacle, so always compare so that you can make the right choice about either recycling or having things go to trash,” Wu said.
Brittany Cook, the marketing director for Carolina Dining Services, said CDS is working to reach the goal of zero net waste by adding compostable silverware to Bottom of Lenoir Hall, McColl Cafe and the Beach Cafe.
Cook said the compostable silverware costs almost double the amount of the plastic silverware, but it was important to make the switch to decrease contamination.
“Last year what was happening was that the silverware was plastic but the boxes were compostable," she said. "At the end of your meal if you put your silverware in your box and then you just tossed that in the compost it was contaminating the compost."
Cook said CDS has partnered with their beverage provider, PepsiCo, to source a compostable cup that has been adopted at McColl Cafe and Bottom of Lenoir.
“That’ll be a huge win for being able to hopefully tremendously reduce our waste – these just had to go in the trash, and now everything can be composted,” she said.
Cook said more can still be done to assure that students are not only composting items in the dining areas, but everywhere on campus.
“Next steps would be working with the OWRR – the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling on campus – to add in as many compostable areas on campus that we can,” she said.
Although most of UNC’s energy comes from the on-campus coal-burning power plant, Brad Ives, the University's chief sustainability officer, said UNC will reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant over the next two years.
“We will be reconfiguring our burners at the plant – it’s something that we’re already permitted to do under our existing air permit – to take that natural gas usage from 25 percent roughly, all the way up to 50 percent,” he said. “This means that we’ll be eliminating one third of the coal that we are currently burning.”
Ives said he spent much of last year working with the North Carolina Legislature to pass House Bill 589, which allows Duke Energy to sell solar power and other renewables to the University for the first time.
The bill made it possible for UNC to build a solar farm near the Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill, which will produce 470 kilowatts of power for University buildings.
Folt said the University has partnered with Burt’s Bees to provide 100 shareable “Tar Heel Bikes” for UNC students and faculty in an effort to reduce emissions from transportation.
Ives said despite the progress the University is making to reach the goals of the Three Zeros Initiative, the responsibility for encouraging sustainable practices on campus belongs to the students.
“Ultimately, we really need all of the students, the faculty and the staff to help us create a culture here that will lead to environmental responsibility,” he said.
At Three Zeros Day, Folt said the University has achieved water neutrality.
While there is not a universal definition of true water neutrality, Folt announced the University’s official definition.
“For us, we decided to define that to say we were using no more water – in fact considerably less water – than actually lands on the surface of our campus,” she said.
Folt said that the Orange Water and Sewer Authority deserves credit for reducing the University’s waste of potable water by developing a water reclamation and reuse system that began operations in 2009.
The $14 million RCW system was almost entirely funded by the University, and is responsible for treating wastewater and converting it into reclaimed water that can be used for irrigation, cooling and toilets.
“Prior to the partnership with OWASA, UNC used one million gallons of drinking-quality cooling water in the summer when we were actively using our air conditioning system,” Folt said. “Today, we’re using 180 million gallons of reclaimed water every year.”
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