OHIO students, staff work behind the scenes to keep campus, community clean

Ohio University is home to a number of students, professional staff, and faculty working hard to help the environment.

Campus Recycling and the Office of Sustainability are two departments in partnership with the Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI), a longstanding project supported by the local Sugar Bush Foundation, who are dedicated to the prevention of pollution and improvement of waste management in Athens. These are a few of the projects going on in this effort, as well as the people behind them.

Kate Harmon is one of those students. Harmon works with Campus Recycling as an events coordinator, and during National Pollution Prevention Week, she asked students to compare the taste between Athens tap water and commercial bottled water to bring attention to plastic waste issues. Harmon challenges students to examine the pre-conceptions about tap versus bottle.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to drink tap water, that’s gross,’ but little do they know it’s actually more regulated than bottled water,” Harmon said.

Campus Recycling was also set up outside of Baker University Center for part of the week to help students approach the ways they interact with the world of waste and how they can make an impact.

Something anyone walking the streets of Athens should be able to notice is the marking of storm drains. The Climate Sustainability Ambassadors – an organization of students working with the Office of Sustainability – patrol the Athens campus, updating and replacing signage in order to protect the water sources that the storm drains flow to. The Ambassadors are always looking for more volunteers.

Ryan Fogt, a professor of meteorology and leader of the group, states their mission as, “Create more climate literacy on and off campus, and work with the Office of Sustainability to advance more broadly our initiatives.”

Looking beyond National Pollution Prevention Week, the Office of Sustainability and Campus Recycling have a ton of projects coming up and are in need of student support to get them to the best possible place.

“We’re majority students. We’re always looking for volunteers,” Joanna Sokol, recycling and zero waste coordinator at Campus Recycling, said. “We’ve added a hire page to our website to help bring in students looking for work in our department.” She and the rest of Campus Recycling are focused on three key areas of waste management on campus: Campus Wide, Work Orders, and Events.

Campus Wide is in conjunction with the rest of Facilities Management in making sure that waste collection operates smoothly, as well as special collections like electronic waste. Green e-waste cabinets are set up in in Baker Center to collect light bulbs, toner cartridges and the like.

For Work Orders, as Sokol said, “You got a new job at Ohio University, and someone left all their books in your office. We handle that.” This includes recycling or donation of old equipment, classroom materials, office supplies, as well anything else a staffer would request to be handled by Recycling.

Events is another key area, and perhaps the place where the most exciting and interactive work is taking place. The Office of Sustainability provides an event planning guide, developed by AOZWI, to create zero- or near-zero waste events, in order to help OHIO reach its goals of an 80% diversion/recovery rate of waste materials. The guide provides resources and services that can be attained to help run a green event, from landfill/recycling bins to help sorting the waste itself.

The Events portion of the work is even broader than just that: Campus Recycling also provides assistance during move-in and move-out to help with the increased amount of recyclable waste on campus.

“Those are our biggest days, in terms of help needed. We’re happy to take volunteers for move-in/move-out,” Grace Mealey, a student working on social media and outreach for Campus Recycling, said.

Sam Crowl, associate director of sustainability at OHIO, draws attention to their collaboration with University Athletics.

“One of Athletics’ big issues is waste management; they’ve got 25,000 people in Peden Stadium, there’s a lot of waste generated and they’ve been great collaborators on our zero waste efforts,” Crowl said.  

A number of initiatives are at play when it comes to Sustainability and Athletics. “Rufus Recycling Days” are a series of home games with a goal of zero waste. With the help of recycling diversion as a tool, these games span a number of varsity sports here on the Athens Campus as opportunities to achieve Zero Waste focuses at the events. They will feature not just physical means of reducing the production of waste, but also an element of education.

Another focus at these games is on the student athletes involved in the zero-waste effort, like women’s soccer player Regan Berg, whose own “Rufus Recycling Day” was during the soccer home game at 1 p.m. Sept. 25. Berg is deeply involved in the sustainability efforts at OHIO and aims to lead by example. The hope is that Regan, like other environmentally-minded students, can help inspire other students to make an impact on sustainability here on campus and beyond.

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