A Professor, Some Students, a Football Stadium, and... Zero Waste?
Dave Newport wants to make garbage cans obsolete?trash, he said, "has to stop being an option." Newport is the director of Colorado University at Boulder's Environmental Center, and he's seen a lot of change on campus in just the last four years, when he first arrived.
The university voted in 2006 to become the first carbon-neutral campus in the country, and is now working towards becoming a zero waste campus. First stop? The football stadium, home of the Colorado Buffs.
Colorado University at Boulder has already removed garbage bins from the stadium, which they were able to do because they switched over all disposable food containers to companies that source from compostable materials. Equipped with the necessary compost and recycling bins, he says the only trash produced is from coffee cup lids, snack chip bags, and candy wrappers. For now, that trash goes into the recycling bins and gets sorted out later (by students, as all the recycling on campus is done), but soon they're going to stop selling candy in non-recyclable wrappers, and in part because of the university's influence, Newport said, Frito-Lay is now producing SunChips in compostable packaging. So, SunChips they will sell.
The university is not new to working with its vendors to spark change?getting companies not to send their products in shrink-wrap has been another achievement. And getting Frito-Lay to join the composting bandwagon, "that's huge."
Past year, the stadium diverted 80 percent of its waste stream, which is an accomplishment he's proud of, because it was just "raw horsepower." Newport said. No one had any fancy tricks or strings to pull, the change came just from a group of people dedicated to a single goal. "I feel really good about that."
Newport teaches one course, Campus Carbon Action Planning, and the rest of his time is devoted to the Environmental Center. He deals with administrative offices and with students, he meets weekly with the student board of directors of the E-center, and he faces barriers inherent in a university bureaucracy?he says the E-center saves the university about a half million dollars a year, but the center does not get that money back, creating difficulties when planning budgets.
He's seeing other interesting changes as well: improved recycling in residence halls, the dining halls are using more local food, bathroom towels now all get composted, and as of August 1, he said, the university is no longer picking up desk-side trash. Which is good, because the trash can below his desk is tiny?and I mean tiny, with the capacity to fit perhaps two soda cans (not that soda cans would go in the trash).
As part of the E-center, Newport has also helped to organize seminars for faculty to help integrate the environment into their curricula. The challenge, he admits, is bridging the gap between green practices that operations departments can implement, with efforts to bring green issues into the classroom. He's in the right place, though. At CU, "it's the students," he said, "they're on the warpath with this stuff."