MCADAMS: MU sustainability efforts lack focus on waste

mcadams-color-300x200Back in April, the Princeton Review listed Marquette University as one of 332 colleges in their 2014 Guide to Green Colleges. The report commended Marquette’s efficient use of energy and water systems, and this year, Marquette Student Government spent roughly $55,000 on to-go box systems and water bottle refilling stations, continuing the university’s greater goal of sustainability.

The university adopted policies and practices to reduce waste and make the consumption of materials more efficient in recent years, such as construction and renovation projects that qualify buildings for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Eckstein Hall, Engineering Hall, McCabe Hall and Zilber Hall are all examples of LEED certified buildings, but more can be done in the way of recycling and reducing the consumption of materials and energy.

Over 50 buildings on campus, excluding parking structures, are not LEED-certified, which indicate the overwhelming majority of buildings on campus could consume less energy and water in current functions. In the residence halls, for example, not all dorms use dual-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads. High efficiency light fixtures can be installed in more places across campus, reducing the need and usage of electricity in many buildings. Several bathrooms in academic buildings lack electric hand dryers, so students and faculty use paper towels in lieu of air drying.

Waste is a major problem on campus because only a fraction of materials used end up being recycled. As of June 2012, Marquette’s recycling rate is only 32.84 percent. Or, put another way, over two thirds of the materials used on campus are thrown away after first use. To put this in perspective, other universities like Georgetown University  and Pepperdine University achieve higher recycling rates of 45 percent and 78 percent respectively.

Dining options help explain why waste at Marquette remains high. Currently, of the four Brew Cafes that offer coffee and tea to students on meal plans, three provide coffee cups that cannot be recycled in the university’s single-stream recycling program. In effect, hundreds of paper cups are wasted every day at Marquette, in part because the university’s Brew locations make the choice to use coffee cups that cannot be recycled inconvenient.

If Brew locations on campus were to encourage students to bring their own mugs to fill with coffee, tens of thousands of coffee cups would not be wasted each year, and the money saved from not having to purchase paper cups and dispose of the waste could pay for mugs for incoming students to use at Brew locations. Currently, only the Brew in Raynor Library, one of the busiest on campus, adopts this model.

Becoming a waste-free and highly efficient campus is undoubtedly a major goal of the Office of Sustainability and its partner student groups. Although achieving the goal of total sustainability requires significant investment over the course of many years, efforts to reduce waste should be a major focus of the Marquette community as they are cheap and easy to implement.