Zero Waste week to promote eco-awareness

The Office of Sustainability (OOS) will this week hold the second school-wide Zero Waste Challenge, inviting students to collect, carry and display all non-recyclable or non-compostable trash they generate in a clear Ziploc bag. 

The challenge, which will last from Oct. 9 to Oct. 16, is meant to encourage participants to be mindful of the waste they produce on a daily basis, according to Sustainability Program Director Tina Woolston.

“The goal is not to have you produce no trash, but to have you examine what you throw away each day,” she said.

For those interested in participating, Eco-Reps will distribute kits on Monday and Tuesday in the Mayer Campus Center, Woolston said. The kits include a clear Ziploc bag with enclosed instructions, a clip for attaching the bag to one’s belongings and a pin to indicate participation.

“We give people a Ziploc bag because we have found that, in general, so much of the stuff that we do use on this campus is recyclable or compostable,” Woolston said.

OOS Communications Specialist Fannie Koa believes the challenge is an effective way to promote sustainable habits within the Tufts community.

“All of a sudden, everything that you pick up you have to be aware of where it goes,” she said. “Otherwise, it goes into a bag that you have to carry around for a week … It makes you realize that it is actually not that hard to recycle and compost on a daily basis, especially when you live on a campus that has all of these streams set up for you already.”

The week will culminate with “Jumbo Mountains,” an event displaying the trash produced by 200 uphill residents compared to the waste generated by Zero Waste Challenge participants, Woolston said. The trash will be piled on the Academic Quad for an hour-long event at which apple cider and donuts will be served.

Although only 40 people returned the Ziploc bags in time for the event last year, Woolston said she hopes about 200 students will participate this time around.

“Then we can have a pile that shows when people are really conscious of the trash that they are generating and disposing of, and one for what happens when they aren’t,” she said.

Eco-Rep Co-Coordinator Katie Segal believes Jumbo Mountains is a powerful display of the difference that eco-conscious behavior can have on the accumulation of waste.

“I think its pretty effective because it’s a visual,” Segal, a senior, said. “Some people don’t respond to numbers. But this is one week, your dorm, [and] you get to see all the trash that came out of it, and you realize that every little thing makes a difference.” 

The OOS was also only able to collect two days’ worth of trash from dorms for the Jumbo Mountains presentation, Woolston said.

“The students generated so much trash in the residential halls that they couldn’t leave a week’s worth in the dumpster,” she said.

According to Woolston, the event began in 2009 as a challenge for students enrolled in an Experimental College class titled Environmental Action: Shifting from Saying to Doing. Eco-Reps took up the challenge in 2010, but it was not until last year that the Eco-Reps opened up the challenge to the rest of the Tufts community. 

“All the Eco-Reps are responsible for trying to get other Tufts community members to participate,” Segal said. “We said each Eco-Rep should pass out 15 bags.”

Hosting the event at Tufts is important because students are developing lifestyle habits that they will continue for the rest of their lives, Koa said.

“Whether you live in a dorm or you live out in an apartment on your own, you are setting up your own personal behavior,” she said. “It’s so important for you guys to start picking up these habits and hopefully carrying them with you after you leave Tufts.”

Koa has completed the challenge twice, but she still learns from the event every year.

“It changes the way that you see waste,” she said. “You will find that you learn a lot about yourself while you are doing the challenge.”