According to the University of Massachusetts, college students in the United States produce about 200 million tons of waste in a single year, and an average student will produce 640 pounds of waste per year on their own.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is no exception to this, but the Office of Sustainability is taking steps to change that.
The office put a plan in place to make UL Lafayette a “zero-waste” school. This would mean UL Lafayette would only send a maximum of 10% of its waste to landfills.
“(UL Lafayette is) managing the materials that we are purchasing,” Sustainability Coordinator Monica Rowand said. “One, so that it reduces the environmental impacts, and social and economic impacts of all materials purchased, including what happens to them at their end of life.”
The office has been responsible for adding more recycling bins to campus, creating a composting facility, installing water bottle filling stations around campus with the help of Facilities Management and partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank to redistribute food that’s been prepared but not eaten. Right now, their primary focus is making Cajun Field zero-waste.
Cajun Field has been a major focus for the zero-waste initiative due to the massive amounts of trash produced at a single football game.
“(There are) multiple tons of waste per game,” Rowand said.
According to Director of the Office of Sustainability Gretchen Vanicor, a big issue with making Cajun Field zero-waste is communicating what can be recycled or composted and what needs to go to a landfill. Many fans are not aware that materials with any sort of food on them cannot be recycled.
“I've seen bags of recycling with food waste, contaminate the whole bag,” she said.
Lauren Prudhomme, a sustainability student aide, has personally been involved with sorting waste at Cajun Field.
“It was kind of gross, but it was fine,” Prudhomme said.
Sodexo, the company that provides food to the university, had to make major changes to accommodate the new plan.
“Quite literally every single single-use disposable item that Sodexo was utilizing to serve food and they have to change in about a six week period,” Vanicor said. “But they got on board and they really got behind it.”
Rowand said the office is seeing what works and what doesn’t on Cajun Field to determine how they’ll tackle waste problems for the rest of UL Lafayette.
As of right now, there are some items that Sodexo still uses that are not in line with the Sustainability Strategic Plan, but Vanicor claims they will not be purchasing more of these items when they run out of their current supply.
“Some of these purchases are made with the very long-term view, so they're getting rid of some stock,” Vanicor said. “As soon as Sodexo is finished with the plastic bags that they have on campus and the straws that they have already ordered, they will not be ordering more.”
In 2015, UL Lafayette created the Office of Sustainability to combat the campus’ problem with waste. According to Vanicor, UL Lafayette was sending almost all of our trash straight to landfills.
“Whenever I first started here, we were diverting less than 3% of our materials away from the landfill,” she said. “Prior to the Student Union opening, there was no access to recycling on campus for students at all.”
While the Office of Sustainability has made major strides towards becoming a zero-waste university, UL Lafayette still has a long way to go. According to Rowand, there are many colleges in the country ahead of UL Lafayette in terms of waste reduction.
She said many schools on the west coast and in the northeast have made large strides towards becoming zero-waste.
“There are some universities in the northeast who have already reached those goals, they divert over 90% of their waste annually already,” she said.