University Recreation on the way to achieving zero waste

About 1,100 people went through the food line during the recent Backyard BBQ at the Student Recreation Center.

By Steve Nakata, Student Affairs

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s Student Recreation Center served up lunches and dinners for thousands of students and family members in recent weeks. While impressive, it’s what happened with the trash generated from those meals that has the staff smiling the most.

Several years ago University Recreation identified sustainability as one of its primary values. That led to creation of the Zero Waste initiative. The goal is ambitious, according to Nick Prante, assistant director of facility services in University Recreation, but the staff has really bought into it.

“What we wanted to avoid is saying that we value sustainability but then not making significant efforts to back it up,” he said.

Events see landfill waste as small as 1 percent

During 10 Alive! summer orientation programs, the SRC served up dinners including hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue chicken, salads, chips and cookies for approximately 4,000 students. The dinners generated 812 pounds of waste; 640 pounds of it was composted and 169 pounds was recycled. Only three pounds ended up in the landfill, resulting in a 99 percent diversion rate.

Student Recreation Center facilities director Jeff Elbracht, left, shows students where to compost and recycle their barbecue waste.

To celebrate the beginning of fall semester, the SRC recently hosted its annual Backyard BBQ, which provided lunch for about 1,100 students and family members. It generated 98 pounds of waste; 53 pounds was composted and 28 pounds was recycled. Sixteen pounds was taken to the landfill, resulting in an 84 percent diversion rate.

“These are awesome numbers,” Prante exclaimed. “But it took some time for us to achieve this kind of success. You can’t just roll out the bins and expect it to happen.”

Policies, partnerships advance sustainability

Starting in 2013, the University Recreation staff began to deliberately change the culture in the SRC with regard to sustainability. Specific wording was added to the mission statement and shared widely among employees and patrons.

Low-flow shower heads and sink faucets were installed in locker rooms and bathrooms along with efficient electric hand dryers, among other improvements. New signs were placed around the building making it clear where and how to recycle waste.

At the Alive! and Backyard BBQs, student employees were made responsible for showing guests how to compost and recycle waste.

“It’s an ongoing effort to educate our staff and the students we serve about sustainability,” Prante said. “But as we gain more experience it’s getting a little easier.” He noted more students are arriving on campus with experience in composting and recycling, particularly those from urban areas.

Prante credits much of his team’s success to their many partners, including WSU Athletics, Dining Services, Catering Services, New Student Programs and Waste Management: “We all work as a team to make this happen, and it’s great to have full buy-in from each of them,” he said.