Zero-waste recycling, composting effort relies on Davidson College student volunteers
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Zero-waste recycling, composting effort relies on Davidson College student volunteers

    Davidson College Junior Stephanie Schauder, left, and Sophomore Divya Khandke volunteered in November as Trash Goalies at Davidson College’s first zero waste football game.
    Davidson College Junior Stephanie Schauder, left, and Sophomore Divya Khandke volunteered in November as Trash Goalies at Davidson College’s first zero waste football game.

Davidson College has launched The Next Play, an initiative that uses the influence of sports to advance sustainability-related goals.

Part of the effort introduced earlier this school year has included organizing two “zero-waste” campaigns: one during a football game this fall and one at a basketball game Jan. 25.

The goal is to keep waste from going to the landfill by introducing composting and recycling infrastructure to athletic venues on campus.

Marcus Carson, who graduated from Davidson College last year with a bachelor’s degree political science and a concentration in environmental studies, said the fall campaign diverted roughly half of the waste typically collected at the football game.

“We diverted 203 pounds of trash from going to the landfill,” said Carson. “The total produced was 403 pounds: 123 pounds of recycling and 80 pounds of compost.”

He expected similar or better results from the basketball game.

Working out of the sustainability office on campus, Carson organized both events, asking concessionaires to use compostable and recyclable materials wherever possible. He then recruited student volunteers to work as “trash goalies,” who help spectators properly sort waste.

“The sustainability office decided to hold these zero-waste events because we noticed that there was a lot of recyclable and compostable trash being produced at football and basketball games, but it was all going to the landfill,” said Carson. “During a waste audit at a typical football game last semester, we predicted that 59 percent of the waste produced at the game could have been recycled and 24 percent could have been composted.”

At the football game, 51 percent of the waste was diverted from the landfill by recycling and composting it, said Carson.

Carson also takes on the role of trash goalie with the student volunteers, many of whom are actively involved in sustainability efforts across campus. The primary responsibility of trash goalies is to help people sort waste properly but there are still a few kinks to work out.

“At the football game, many people were willing to take an extra minute to consider where they should put their trash, but sometimes when a person saw a student guarding the bins, patrons would try to sneak by the student and quickly throw their trash into the nearest bin,” Carson said.

“To remedy this problem, some of the students would take the garbage out of patrons’ hands and organize it into the correct bins themselves. When a person would get away with sneaking by, however, we would have to take the garbage out of the wrong bin and separate it after the fact. The worst was when we had someone casually throw a dirty diaper into a recycling bin.”

Sorting trash is a thought process

Even though recycling and composting are becoming more commonplace, said Carson, the challenge now is encouraging people to consciously think about sorting trash in places where throwing it away has always been a very passive experience.

Athletic events create a great stage as method for advancing sustainability-related goals, said Carson, and spreading awareness plays a key role in promoting the zero-waste effort.

“Capturing people’s attention, so they’re willing to take the extra 30 seconds to sort their trash, is made even more difficult at sporting events when thousands of fans just want to get back to their seats or back to their cars,” Carson said.

The zero-waste games also have been a great method for getting people on and off campus to think about their trash and its impact, Carson noted.

“Waste is a major sustainability issue – especially on a college campus,” he said. “We produce a lot of garbage, and dumping it in a landfill has far-reaching consequences on the environment. So, anytime we have an opportunity to reduce that impact, the work involved is worth it. Hitting zero waste is definitely a big goal, but it’s absolutely attainable.”

Stephanie Schauder, a junior and an economics major who lives in Huntersville, found out about becoming a trash goalie from the school’s Environmental Action Coalition. She volunteered for the November football game and this winter’s basketball game.

“I wanted to help in this way because I have participated in a couple of campus waste audits and I am always really disheartened by the amount of waste that could be composted or recycled given greater awareness and feasibility,” she said.

Trash goalie’s work

Being a volunteer is easy, said Schauder, because most people make the right decision, but having a physical presence simply reminds people to think about it.

“I enjoy being a trash goalie because I feel like I helped divert some of the waste that would otherwise go into a landfill,” she said. “And I was able to help educate people on specific items that could be recycled or composted. I would definitely do it again because I think it is so important to encourage conversation and thought about what happens to our waste.”

Schauder said the effort brings awareness to how much waste can be diverted, but starting these conversations is the real benefit of the trash goalie program irrespective of the actual amount of waste that it diverts.”

“Regardless of the (amount of trash diverted), the more important effect is that the trash goalie effort causes people to think about how their waste will be disposed,” said Schauder. “My hope is that eventually we can begin to think of the end-life of a product before we make a purchase and come to prefer buying thinks that can be recycled or composted instead of those that will go into the landfill.

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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