Campus tries to eliminate excessive food, electricity use

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Melissa Silverberg

With the University disposing of more than three elephants worth of waste each year, administrators and students are making changes to reduce the impact on the environment.

The University generates 14,000 tons of waste each year, but about 49 percent of this waste is diverted away from landfills, according to the 2004 Waste Reduction Plan compiled by University Facilities and Services. A new study will be conducted in 2010.

“It’s not cheap filling the landfills with this stuff,” said Tim Hoss, coordinator of waste management for Facilities and Services.

To reduce costs, students and the University are following steps to keep waste out of dumps.

Recycle old homework

Environmentally-conscious students often think of saving paper, yet they continue to post fliers and notices on bulletin boards around campus.

To reduce paper waste, the printing department of Facilities and Services now produces class course packets made 100 percent of recycled content, said Barb Childers, director of printing for Facilities and Services.

While the cost to produce these course packets is higher, Childers said it’s worth the added expense.

“Most course packs have a short life and are only used for a semester or two,” Childers said.

The printing department has also started using vegetable- or soy-based inks in its printing.

Childers added that the department recycles a Dumpster full of paper every day, and a Dumpster full of cardboard each week in efforts to reduce waste.

Empty your plate

One area of waste students may not consider is the food they scrape off their plates and into the trash at the end at the end of each meal.

“Food waste is pretty inherent to the system because we have so much food, and we don’t really value it,” said Dan Anderson, agriculture specialist in ACES. “People just eat what they want and throw the rest away because they know they can get more whenever they want.”

It is difficult to measure how much food is thrown out from University residence halls yearly, however Americans waste as much as 96 billion pounds of food each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If food wasn’t as abundant, you would think twice before fixing more than you needed or throwing out what you didn’t finish,” Anderson said. “It’s an American attitude toward food.”

A new initiative called iCompost was launched by Registered Student Organizations Students for Environmental Concerns and the Horticulture Club at the end of September. iCompost is working to develop a sustainable student-run farm which will supply local food to University Dining Services and be fertilized with compost from waste collected from campus dining halls, according to the groups’ project proposal.

“I used to work in the dining halls, and I saw so much food getting wasted,” said Connie Ger, senior in LAS and a member of Students for Environmental Concerns. “It just wasn’t right.”

Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls also recently went tray-less in an effort to reduce the amount of unwanted food thrown away by students.

“You won’t be able to stock up on massive amounts of food anymore and then waste it,” said Suhail Barot, graduate student and chair of the Student Sustainability Committee. “I think it really has potential.”

Turn off the lights

Another large expenditure of energy may be the electricity used to light buildings around campus.

Some buildings stay open 24 hours per day, such as the Undergraduate Library, requiring their lights to constantly be on.

To reduce costs and energy usage from lighting, the University is in the process of its relighting initiative.

This is a $2.8 million project replacing older, less efficient light bulbs in 40 University buildings, said Terry Ruprecht, director of energy conservation for the University.

In buildings without activities and classes held late at night, the lights are left on for custodial services when there is the least amount of traffic in the buildings, according to Facilities and Services.

Seventy percent or more of custodial work goes on at night, but Ruprecht said they are looking to move some of these shifts to daytime hours to reduce lighting buildings throughout the night.

“It is also up to the individual users to turn the lights off when they leave,” said Tom Abram, sustainability coordinator in Facilities and Services.

Abram added that at some point in the next few years the colleges and departments in the top 80 energy-spending buildings will be responsible for paying their own bills. He said he believes this will make them more accountable.

Pay the bill

Making campus a more sustainable place is not free, however.

“We do use more energy than we should,” Ruprecht said. “But waste is in the eye of the beholder.”

Money for these improvements comes from University funding and student fees, Abram said.

Students pay a $5 Sustainable Campus Environment fee and a $2 Cleaner Energy Technologies fee each year, Barot said.

With the state of the economy and the increased cost of fuel, the energy bill for the University has increased as well. In 2003, the Urbana campus alone spent $26 million on energy costs.

For fiscal year 2008, officials are estimating the energy bill at $70 million, Abram added.

“Energy costs have gone up pretty dramatically,” he added. “One of the most immediate consequences of overconsumption is the cost.”

As the University tries to become more environmentally-friendly, several programs are in the works, including wind turbines, compost programs and new classes concerning environmental awareness.

“We are slowly but surely improving the way we handle all types of waste on campus,” Hoss said. “But, there is always room for improvement.”