Zero waste universities? Can they realistically exist? Let’s find out.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” True enough, allowing yourself to learn and grow through education can make a difference. It can kindle the fire of learnings in our brains. Thus, the more we learn, the more chances of changing the world and its unjust and misguided direction in the train of life.
This is why our parents would not fret about anything else as long they were able to put you in good universities and colleges which offers good quality education, in hopes of providing their children the sufficient amount of learnings they need to learn – in which they will have to carry on for the rest of their human life.
For ambitious parents, not that being ambitious is a bad thing, they would not mind spending too much money for their children’s education. It is a realistic goal because who would not want to provide their child the best they could give, right?
Talk about the excellent quality of education. What makes an institution exceptional? Is it because of the great personality of their teachers and staff of the school? Is it about the facilities that they offer, which you could not find in other schools? Is it the amount of tuition and miscellaneous that you pay? Or is it the learnings and lessons that you will learn in the institution?
What makes a good university?
There could be critical factors that make an institution exceptional as it offers good quality of education. Why? Because the ‘good quality of education depends on what the students need. To illustrate my point, for instance, a student who wants to achieve a good quality of education in terms of music.
Do you think that students would want to enroll in Harvard University because of its good facilities and the kind of education they teach? Or would the student enroll in Julliard instead because her point of finding a good quality of education would help her know more about music and enhance her talents and capabilities? Honestly, this all depends on what kind of education you are in search of.
Concerning the points mentioned above, universities that highly and openly encourage their students for sustainability and zero waste community, emphasizing it and highlighting its importance as if it is the only education they could offer. Does that make these universities less in terms of their service of good quality education?
No. I do not think so. When we talk about the excellent quality of education, it doesn’t limit its focus on managing and enhancing a student’s forte in specific fields (i.e., architecture, accountancy, music, business management, engineering, etc.) It also aims to discuss real-life lessons and problems that everyone must know because the problems in life are not only limited to measuring the width and length of a building or the net profit. Hence, we have political, racial, environmental, and multi-spectral issues that need to be addressed simultaneously to the young generation to prepare them and open rooms for change.
With that said, a widespread and popular issue at hand that we have been battling over the years is being addressed by particular universities worldwide. Hence, did you know that universities worldwide teach their students and constituents the importance of sustainability and zero waste like they are a part of every students’ subject area in their courses? Cool, isn’t it?
Imagine not only limiting our learnings with specific subjects on the course that we took? That would be amazing. So we researched about top universities that you would wish to visit and know because of the gravity of the education that they are offering. However, before proceeding to the list, for the sake of context, let us define what zero waste is, as this is what these universities are emphasizing.
What does it mean to be zero waste?
According to United States Environmental Protection Agency, many communities expressed their ideas on how they define what zero waste is. some would say that zero waste is beyond recycling and composting. To others, zero waste is about the conservation of resources by means of responsible production, consumption, packaging and etc. Ultimately, zero waste is a goal that must be addressed economically.
All of these, nonetheless, proved their point right. Because indeed, the idea of zero waste management is not only limited to recycling but also begins with responsible production of goods, especially their packaging and ingredients that would affect the environment.
With that said, the use of plastics all over the world has become a massive problem. With millions of plastic bottles, sachets, bags, etc., polluting both the oceans and lands, it was not long until it began clogging up our drainages and kills a portion of every life we have on Earth. Thus, it diminishes the growth and development that the environment needs. Furthermore, the nutrients and nourishments required to support healthy living are already at their peak of risks due to the tumultuous amount of wastes present in the surroundings.
However, like any problems that have come to arise and are withdrawn in the world, there will always be a silver lining that will look into Earth’s salvation. The zero waste movement has been gaining more attention from organizations, individuals, economies, and universities.
Striving even harder to resolve and regain what was once a peaceful and serene way of living within the environment. But, with that said, a bunch of universities all over the world took the initiative to not only impose a zero waste community in their school – but also to influence the wider community into a more sustainable lifestyle.
From practices about proper segregation of garbage to composting and recycling, these are only a few initiatives we often visibly see as a mark towards sustainability movement initiated by our schools. However, several universities admitted that keeping up with their goals and role models that would influence the public are quite hard to maintain. Their environmental commitments are helpful but often quite challenging due to their need for financial assistance to actualize the movement within the university walls and outside of its premises.
However, it is still hard to find universities worldwide that would likely continue with their goal. So below are some universities all over the world that took the initiative to push the sustainability movement and also actualize it outside their premises.
Sustainable Universities Worldwide
According to research, this university aimed to go zero waste by 2020. Apparently, they established their Sustainability Master Plan in 2016. They regularly revised it to connect with the spheres within the waste, starting from water and energy conservation, moving forward with sustainability culture and different collaborations. Among their activities would include “optimizing the accessibility to resource recovery of infrastructure, improving the recycling process and its scope, as well as giving support towards zero waste interns and other zero waste-related programs. Also, their “Trash-to-Treasure” is being held every end of the semester and collects items donated by students and sells them to new students for a dollar each.
The said university focuses on finding out the leading causes of waste and serious matters which affect the environment. The campus also aims to influence and ask the people to join the #MyLastTrash pledge, urging them to reduce their waste footprints. Furthermore, the university is already making rounds of diverting 69% of its waste to landfills and composting its food waste.
One of the longest-running universities to ever actualize the zero waste movement for over 20 years. The endeavor of zero waste management is quite rare and true enough. Only a few notable institutions are vocal and practices such. In 1998, Stanford University began by simply recycling, and so far, they had achieved at least 63% use of the system of reuse, recycling, and composting. They also have an extensive My Green Cardinal program that supports conservation behaviors to achieve zero waste goals by 2030.
The university began issuing reusable food containers to avoid purchasing plastics and reusable containers instead of buying their food and drinks. This action obliges their students and staff to bring their utensils to eradicate single-use plastics in the university. They even provided a machine that would replace their dirty containers with clean ones that are available on the spot – quite convenient, I must say. This initiative ought to be adopted by the community as the ‘new normal.
Like Tulane University’s initiative, Keele University aims to dispose of plastics and bring about a culture of responsible consumption. However, apart from disposing of plastics, bringing about another key concept that will help achieve a zero waste university is good to take, which helps maximize their ideas, adapting both for a faster and easier way in achieving their goal.
A university located in the western islands of the Philippines actualized the banning of plastics and styrofoam on the campus. Students were asked to bring their own utensils and containers whilst purchasing food and drinks. And over the years that it began, plastics obtained from their trash lessened, and students no longer felt the sense of requirement in following the guidelines. Rather, it has been instilled and became a part of the culture on the campus. Large proper bins for segregation were placed visibly for convenience on both staff and students.
University College Cork in Ireland established a Green Campus Programme in 2007, aiming to improve recycling facilities and address waste management. Since then, the university has been excelling in cutting its carbon emissions by 36%, and students could plant 2,500 trees on the campus. It was also noted that their library, which is one the most energy-intensive building on the campus, noticed a 9% reduction of energy use – commendable.
The university imposed an environmental and sustainability policy, and they committed to less waste, more recycling, and better consumption of recycled materials. According to research, they established a Warp-it platform that finds home for preowned furniture from the estate, reducing waste and landfills. They also sell recycled goods on the campus and provide students an idea regarding the cause of every penny spent on a plastic bottle.
The abovementioned universities all share something in common. However, as for the University of Eastern Finland, the university aims to be a paperless campus. With that said, the university wishes to utilize only electronic materials and avoid printing as much as possible. Therefore, the WWF granted their administration with the Green Office label, given their commitment to promoting sustainable development. Furthermore, the university is also committed to increasing its improvement in recycling and minimizing landfill waste.
The entire community, especially the university staff and students, was encouraged to donate their damaged electrical items for recycling. The University of Aberdeen also follows Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan in which aims for 2025 to be the year where the total reduction of waste in Scotland has been achieved. The University of Aberdeen was successful in following these steps towards reducing their carbon emissions. Moreover, the World Economic Forum is currently helping to discuss environmental issues due to overconsumption through its Shaping the Future of Consumption platform.
Since industrialization began, careless waste disposal has been a rampant predicament, and other environmentally degrading activities such as deforestation and mining. Many for-profit and non-profit organizations tried their very best for long years to solve such global issues. One way that many use to try to solve the underlying environmental issues is the zero waste movement.
And with some prominent universities and colleges setting an example that going zero waste is feasible, I reckon that it is also possible for private and public institutions to follow in these footsteps. Sure, there could be financial hurdles at first, but we can always begin with baby steps to make zero waste possible. Hence, the initiative should always start with the administration.
Here are some tips we recommend you share to others, especially to your schools, to weave sustainability into the progress of learning:
- Avoid producing waste – As much as possible, use stuff and materials that are reusable.
- Reuse – Instead of throwing away things, always think thoroughly first and assess if the object you are throwing away can still be used again.
- Recycle – Sure, going through our old stuff can be a handful that would often trash them in right away. However, checking them twice would not be so bad, for there could be potential stuff out there that can be recycled.
- Ban plastics (especially single-use plastics). – This way, students and staff are obliged to bring their own reusable instead of purchasing items and products with too much packaging.
- Allot big bins with clearer labels for better segregation – This is essential for more effective waste management. To avoid confusion, include graphics to show the different waste materials that fit each bin.
- Make use of technology’s power.
The power that the administration holds can influence its staff and students. With such implementation of simply banning plastic bottles, styrofoam, and others, it can already make a difference. There are several ways on how to reduce waste. We only need to master the art of discipline to make our lives easier and quickly solve this global predicament. Hence, we not only influence the campus but also can take these lessons in and perhaps apply it in their homes.