In an effort to bring its values of sustainability into practice, Macalester College has adopted a goal of Zero Waste by 2020. Macalester adheres to the widely accepted Zero Waste International Alliance standard, which states that Zero Waste Institutions divert 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators.
Why does Zero Waste matter? We have a growing population that depends heavily on limited resources from the environment. Materials need to be used as efficiently as possible to create minimal waste, and to allow for a decrease in the extraction of resources. If you’re an average American, you are contributing nearly 4.5 pounds of garbage a day – 56 tons a year – which is carted off to landfills. This garbage is then consolidated into cells, buried, and turned into a toxic landmass that threatens land, air and water quality. Often, landfills are placed disproportionately in lower income areas and communities of color.
Instead of contributing to this issue, Macalester has instituted a number of projects in an effort to reach Zero Waste by 2020. The projects have included implementing campus wide composting, contracting with Barthold Farms to take all food waste generated at Café Mac and Bon Appetit Catering Services for use as hog feed, providing reusable take-out containers at the Grille, and recycling oddities such as printer cartridges and batteries in the lower level of the Campus Center and the Sustainability Office.
Even with these projects, we still have a long way to go to achieve our 90% diversion rate by 2020. At this point, Macalester is trending toward diverting close to 70% of its waste. There are a number of factors preventing us from reaching our goal. One of the main issues is the improper disposal of items in the trash that could be recycled or composted. Based on a recent waste sort during the 2013-2014 school year, 77% of Macalester’s waste could actually be recycled or composted. As a campus, we have actually decreased the amount of recyclables that we are recycling. In 2010, 11% of Macalester’s waste could have been recycled, but in 2014, 25% of Macalester’s waste could have been recycled. This increase in improper disposal can be attributed to anything from an increase in the number of students on campus, to a lack of education of what can and can’t be recycled. Regardless, it’s clear that this is an issue, but one we as a campus are capable of addressing.
There are a number of actions that members of the Macalester community can take to assist the Zero Waste efforts on campus. The first and foremast is take the time to sort and dispose of your trash correctly. Taking those extra ten seconds to remember to throw your napkins and orange peels into the compost actually does make a difference. Also, pass on the knowledge you have about proper recycling and composting to other people you know. If you have ideas for Macalester’s initiatives to reach Zero Waste, feel free to reach out to the Zero Waste Committee, the group that oversees the implementation of this policy. Please contact Gabby Queenan ([email protected]), Suzanne Savanick Hansen ([email protected]), or Kyle Wright ([email protected]) for more information.