In order to make Union more sustainable, I propose that Union install solar tables behind Reamer Campus Center. These tables would have electrical outputs to charge phones or laptops and are perfect for the students that are sick of studying inside on a nice day. Creating these solar tables may also provide data to prove to Union how much money could be saved by installing solar panels on some of the buildings that receive constant sunlight.
For my green grant, I propose that the dining halls get rid of the trays used to carry food. Eliminating trays from the dining halls would lower energy and water use. At Union, the trays are not used by all the students, but more so to bring the dirty plates, cups, and utensils into the dish room. If we eliminated the trays from this process and just had a rotating conveyer belt system, then less water would be used cleaning the trays. Additionally, there would also be fewer plates to clean. This experiment was done at Georgia Tech and for the 18,000 student body, they save 3,000 gallons of water each day. Additionally, when students do not have trays to carry their food, they can only take what they can hold reducing the overall food waste. Another study was done in New York that showed that without trays the school saved a total of 25 pounds of waste each meal. This is because students have less space to carry the food to their area so they can take only what they need. At RIT, last summer they removed trays and they saw less food waste and the school saved 10% of food spending. Overall, taking away trays and finding a new system for Union students to transport their waste to the dish room would have several benefits.
In order to reduce our school’s carbon footprint, Union should stop providing students with plastic straws and opt for more sustainable ones instead. Recently, several states and cities have made strict laws surrounding the use of plastic straws because of their harmful impact on the environment and Starbucks has promised that they will stop using straws all together by 2020. Between Dutch, Starbucks, and the dining halls on campus, students are constantly using plastic straws. Instead of plastic straws, Union should switch to paper ones in all dining locations. Additionally, they should provide each incoming student with either a metal or glass reusable straw. Metal straws cost around $1/straw when bought in bulk, so for an incoming class of 550 students, the school could spend ~$550 and become an even more sustainable campus.
I think a very feasible and impactful change Union College can make to increase our sustainability is to increase the amount of compost collection sites and by providing more recycling bins. Currently, there are only compost bins in the dining halls. However, students and faculty eat and use compostable items all around campus everyday. I think that the college community would use more composting bins if there were more available, for example, in the library and in academic buildings such as Karp or Olin. Often times we throw things in the landfill garbage bins simply because there are no other bins available. By making composting and recycling more accessible, we could cut down our waste and become a more sustainable campus.
Lately the topic of excess garbage, including food waste, has been a hot topic in the news because the destructive effects of excess waste are starting to affect health and safety of people. Excess waste has always been affecting our health and safety but until now the effects have not been so obvious. Excess waste causes air pollution, respiratory diseases, contamination of surface and ground waters and increased bacteria, insects and vermin urban centers. To help alleviate some of the stress on our environment caused by excess waste, I propose that each first year student receives a custom Union Tupperware container. This way the students can use the containers in Reamer for various food options; Rathskeller takeout; and in the dining halls so as to reduce the amount of to-go cups used as makeshift takeout containers. A typical square generic “Tupperware” container costs ~$1.00 so for an incoming class of ~700 students this would call for a grant of ~$750 for custom Tupperware containers. The waste we would be avoiding if this grant were to be granted would far out-cost the cost of the containers. Perhaps dining services could have some kind of program or contest once a term that incorporates the containers and when they hold their “pop-up” events, students should only be served if they have their reusable containers. Perhaps this would also encourage students to purchase more reusable containers and use less one-use containers!
I think a great way that this school could manage and lower the carbon footprint of the students could be to lower the amount of meat products offered in the dining halls. After learning that the amount of water and natural resources needed to produce meat products for people to consume is unbelievably high, I realized that cutting back on meat would make a very large impact on our environment. For this reason, I think the school would benefit from using $25,000 to offer more vegetarian options and perhaps some meals on some days without meat at all. The school could use the money to invest in other protein sources, such as tofu and bean products, so that students are still attaining protein in their diet, minus the environmental impact.