Living a zero-waste lifestyle at UT

Staff writer Ainsley Kelso outlines a helpful guide for helping the environment on campus

Take a look at the trash can nearest you in your building. What do you see? A mix of styrofoam take out containers, Starbucks cups, gum wrappers, napkins and tissues? Maybe even plastic bottles and paper plates? These items are not uncommon in every trash can, but if a recycling bin were available, would you use it?

“I would say I care about [the environment], but it’s not really something that I think about a whole lot or make a lot of intentional efforts for,” University of Tennessee freshman Emily Wellman said.

Expecting every person to follow a zero-waste lifestyle proves impossible. However, small changes in a person’s day-to-day life can positively impact the environment.

UT Recycling Outreach Coordinator Michelle Van Guilde said, “the actual definition of zero-waste is, for the things you use, 90 percent is being diverted from the landfill”.

Countless options exist for students who want to try to be environmentally friendly.

Take advantage of the Mug Project

Students can save $0.60 or receive 15 percent off their purchase by carrying their own reusable cup to UT dining locations. Reusable cups take the place of paper or plastic cups, which harm the environment.

According to a recent UT Recycling Mug Project report, the initiative saved students $47,020 last year and kept 1,600 pounds of waste from a landfill.

Sign up for “The Green Leaf”

President of Eco-Vols Vicky Louangaphay encourages students to sign up for The Green Leaf newsletter.

“The Office of Sustainability has a monthly newsletter called The Green Leaf. They usually send out tips and environment news about a bunch of environmental organizations and what they are doing,” Louangaphay said.

This electronic newsletter allows students to stay up to date on environmental news without wasting any paper to receive it.

Suspend straws

One-use plastic straws permeate restaurants, fast food chains and dorms or apartments, but these straws are major polluters. Washable, reusable straws reduce waste at a low investment.

“I love recommending that people just not use straws. That is one of the main pollutants in the ocean; plastic straws and other micro plastics,” Louangaphy said.

Composting

Compost consists of organic materials such as paper, fruit and vegetable scraps and egg shells that have been put into a pile, watered and decomposed as stated in the “Knoxville Citizen’s Guide to Sustainability.”

Many campus dining halls now follow composting programs. For example, Southern Kitchen features a compost bin (its main trash can) into which students can dispose waste.

Recycle in the dorm and on Campus

The “Knoxville Citizen’s Guide to Sustainability” states that Knoxville households throw away 70 to 80 percent of what could be recycled.

Purchasing recyclable items cuts down on the overall waste sent to landfills. Plastic bottles, sticky notes, aluminum cans and more can be recycled on UT’s campus.

Education and awareness create the possibility to make small differences.

Wellman said, “I try to walk places when I can, and I do recycle in my dorm and my family does it at home. Anytime I see something that would not be too out of my way that would be a better option for the environment is something I usually try to go with.”

“While it would be harder for a college student, I think if you are willing to put in whatever time or effort or money it takes, then I think it is definitely possible.”

Written by Ainsley Kelso