The Sustainability Section: On campus pandemic waste

The Sustainability Steering Committee is a group on campus that is devoted to creating more sustainable practices at Lawrence. This column highlights some of their recent initiatives in order to educate students on sustainable options and plans available to them.

The Sustainability Steering Committee, co-chaired by Sustainability and Special Projects Fellow Grace Subat and Professor of Geosciences and Special Assistant to the President Jeffrey Clark, is a campus group that strives to create positive change on campus in terms of sustainability and environmental issues. The committee is currently comprised of 12 students, faculty and staff who meet weekly to discuss initiatives on campus and dole out funding for student-led projects related to sustainability. 

Their mission statement as published on Lawrence’s website reads as follows: “To instill a culture of sustainable long-range planning throughout the [university] by promoting sustainability in planning, development and operation of the campus environment and facilities. The Sustainability Steering Committee will recommend policies and practices which best reflect the university’s commitment to sustainability, help coordinate campus sustainability initiatives and promote a thriving, environmentally conscious community.” Through their actions and initiatives, they have been adhering to this mission statement since the creation of the group.

The committee, formed in 2017, has been funded since then by a grant that provided the university with $25,000 annually for sustainability-related projects and plans. The grant was extended due to COVID-19, so 2020 will be the last year the money will be available from that source. The Sustainability Steering Committee has no plans to go anywhere, though. Students are charged a $5 sustainability fee each term, and that money, under the supervision of the Lawrence University Community Council, can be used by the committee to continue to fund projects and initiatives led by students. 

Since its inception, the Sustainability Steering Committee has helped to review building proposals on campus to make sure they are sustainable and has provided compost buckets for dorm buildings, among other things. On top of providing funding for student projects, the committee offers support for student organizations who are looking to work on sustainability. So far this year, the committee has allocated funds to purchase a filament recycling machine for the Makerspace after a student suggested the project. 

The most recent focus of the Sustainability Steering Committee has been centered on reducing waste during the pandemic, especially on campus. Subat shared her feelings about pandemic waste: “I’m really frustrated about it […] because, of course, I understand we are all going through a really hard time […] so, I’m really frustrated, but I get it.” Subat continued, “My motivation is that the environmental crisis isn’t going away, so we need to keep sustainability at the top of our minds as we go through this because, if we don’t, it will be too late.”

 While excess waste during these unprecedented times has been a cause for concern for Subat and others, there are ways to be more sustainable here on campus. “We started this [initiative] because, last Spring Term, reusable clamshells were not able to be used because of safety concerns,” Subat said. “Now they are back, so we are promoting the use of them again. A lot of the waste we are seeing is from Styrofoam containers, so we are really trying to let people know that the reusable clamshells are back, you should use them and they are completely safe. They are taken in, completely washed, sanitized and then reused.” Additionally, Subat encourages students to continue to use canvas or other reusable bags to carry food and utilize the reusable utensils provided by the university. 

In an effort to further educate students, the Sustainability Steering Committee is hosting a virtual event on “Sustainability During a Pandemic.” The event, hosted on Sunday, Nov. 1, from 4-6 p.m., will feature a panel of experts to give advice and answer questions on the topic. Following the panel, the documentary The Human Element will be shown. To register for the event, visit the Lawrence calendar of events or email Subat at grace.c.subat@lawrence.edu.

While the environmental crisis is a huge issue that spans far beyond the individual, Subat believes that we can all do our part for sustainability. “If we can encourage others to not be wasteful, that is the best way that you can be an advocate.”

If you would like to propose a sustainability project or get involved with the Sustainability Steering Committee, reach out to Subat. Additionally, Subat is available to speak to students who are feeling overwhelmed by sustainability issues on campus, as there are funds available to help students live more sustainably, should that be a need. 

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