Zero waste event a step towards campus sustainability

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Cosumnes River College held the pre semester convocation, a faculty meeting for professors, faculty and staff on the Jan. 13. Food was served and everyone spent the day being educated.

“Working together, we made history within our district yesterday,” Geography professor Debra Sharkey said. “We completed the first known ‘zero waste event’ at a Los Rios Community College District convocation.”

The zero waste event generates little to no landfill waste.

“Four years ago this campus wasn’t thinking very sustainably,” Sharkey said. “Spring 2007 we really started thinking sustainability. I think it’s a process. People are becoming more aware.”

CRC offers several classes, clubs and the Sustainability Committee where students can get involved.

“This all began with a student project in Geography 302, Environmental Studies and Sustainability,” Sharkey said.

Students in Sharkey’s Geography 302 class interviewed horticulture professor Dave Andrews about composting some of the waste generated from the cafeteria at CRC, but his composting efforts could only handle 20 pounds of the waste.

Sonya Marshall-Bruner, a 46-year-old sociology major in Sharkey’s class, had already contacted Atlas Disposal, the school’s current waste disposal service, and surprised everyone with a viable solution, Sharkey said.

“Atlas had all the resources available, we just weren’t using them,” Marshall-Bruner said. “They even provide training from staff on what to do.”

Aramark, the company who runs the CRC cafeteria and their manager Jeff Caponera got on board for the idea, as did culinary arts professor Cynthia Torres. They had recycling bins and the new composting bin in place. The faculty, especially President Debbie Travis, got on board.

A week before fall finals, the planning began for the first ever zero waste event.

“I was surprised,” Sharkey said. “It’s critical to have staff on board. It all fell into place.”

There was one pound of garbage from Aramark and the food prep was not completed with zero waste in mind, Sharkey said.

On the consumption side of the event, 94.8 percent of waste materials were diverted from traditional disposal such as land-filling or incineration to be recycled, composted or re-used.

Students will be affected by this land mark event through the resulting little blue composting buckets Aramark, has already put out in the cafeteria for student use. They are also looking into getting the kind of eating utensils that were used at the convocation, Sharkey said.

Torres ordered the compostable silverware from Restaurant Depot for the convocation and it only cost $10 more than the regular non-compostable variety. The cost has gone down on such items because “everyone wants it now,” she said.

She is helping the cafeteria kitchen to reduce waste by color coding trash cans and educating her students.

“It’s just education and it’s a school so we can educate them,” Torres said.

While it is a huge accomplishment for everyone involved and a feather in the cap of CRC, outside of green classes, student clubs and other carefully planned events, students aren’t likely to see campus grown fruit and veggies on the cafeteria menu, probably not for a while, Sharkey said.

“The challenge is, you have to educate people,” Sharkey said. “We don’t have a program. We need to educate and change behavior. We need something to get student attention.”

Marshall-Bruner had a life changing experience in Sharkey’s class.

“I’m living more green. I’m recycling and thinking about what I’m throwing away,” Marshall-Bruner said. “We’ve only got one planet.”

 

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