In the span of 2 weeks, Alex and I have made our way from the suburbs of Tempe to the vibrant desert plains of Sedona, up through the sea coast of California to the majestic redwood forest in Santa Cruz, with many an adventure in between. From Air BnB’s and Couchsurfing hosts to friends of friends, the people we have met have been equally as inspiring as the scenery we have passed through!
After a bit of turbulence and an emergency landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we started our trip off at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, where the champion team within the Zero Waste Department toured us around a unique urban campus that houses over 50,000 students, staff, and faculty.
Our second day was a bright and early rise for a 6 am ride-along with the recycling crew, servicing both single-stream and hard-to-recycle material drop-off points; these materials are taken down to what the on-the-ground crew refers to as “The Boneyard” for sorting, processing, and shipment off to recycling intermediaries. On-the-ground crew have recently ramped up their operations to accommodate collections for the campus’s new Blue Bag program. Piloted to strategically capture hard-to-recycle items, the Blue Bag program offers campus residents an outlet for e-waste, old stationary, water filters, ink cartridges, and even Keurig coffee capsules and snack wrappers. While the department realizes that this program has the potential to “excuse” students for using single-use, disposable items (particularly coffee capsules and snack wrappers), it is an effective meeting point for educating and engaging the general student body on the proper disposal of complex materials on campus.
After an early morning start, and a free breakfast (we happened to stumble across an event banquet, whose staff were just packing up and planning on throwing out their leftovers) we rounded off our day with an interactive presentation and workshop that involved the Zero Waste department manager, student interns, and the Zero Waste Student Club. Titled “Why Can’t We Just…?”, the workshop addressed ambitious project ideas and the realities of organizational structures on campus, ultimately to produce a plan for moving forward with education and outreach efforts around new and existing programs on campus.
From Tempe, we caravanned through the Sedona desert, making a quick stop at Slide Rock Park. Now, despite being in the Arizona desert, it was still February, and to say the water was cold is a bit of an understatement. Nonetheless I took a quick slide in to get the full experience before we continued on our way up to UC Santa Barbara.
The Zero Waste Committee at UCSB received us with a great audience turnout for a workshop around general project planning and implementation. Students brought their project ideas that ranged from incorporating sustainability studies into GE requirements, to organizing outdoor events for retention of students of color, to “tortilla diversion” for reducing the food waste that amounts from the campus’s long standing tradition of throwing tortillas onto the field of home-team football games. As the cherry on top of a collaborative evening were the alignment of all the proper logistics – food, dishware, bins, and signage – by the ZWC to make the workshop a Zero Waste Event!
Our next stop was Claremont, California, to conduct a training workshop for Pitzer and Pomona Colleges’ move-out program teams, ReRoom and ReCoop. These groups are fortunate enough to have all of the logistics for a success institutionalized into their campus structures, making for rigorous programs with smooth leadership turnover. We were able to take some time with the students to address the finer details – such as the presentation of clothing at their sales, and how to educate donatees for a smoother collection process – to take these programs to the next level.
Our discussions were certainly fruitful, leading to the discovery of a “FreeRoom” on the Pitzer campus that is informally housed in one of the dormitory study rooms. We took a group field trip to the FreeRoom after the workshop, and, amongst some underwear and single shoes, found a few gems worth our while!
We are now in Santa Cruz California getting some time to catch up on our regular PLAN responsibilities, the surf, sand, and majestic redwood forest. Our next stop is CSU Monterey Bay, where we will be conducting a waste audit of the student store with their Sustainability Director, followed by a day of interactive workshops and presentations with students, the Procurement department, Campus Events staff, and Custodial staff to create some tangible goals for long-term waste reduction on the CSUMB campus.