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The 2018 Oak Awards

By Sustainability Office on May 3, 2018

– Cecilia Kane ’20

At the Green Summit on April 12, three individuals were recognized with Oak Awards for their contributions to sustainability in the Colgate community.

Sergei Domashenko, Coordinator of Government Documents, Maps, and Microforms and Lecturer in Russian and Eurasian Studies, received the staff Oak Award for his efforts at Case-Geyer Library. A two-year member of the Sustainability Council, Domashenko helped form the Library Sustainability Group, which focuses on waste reduction, outreach, marketing, literacy, and education. While significant campus programming has been geared toward students, Domashenko recognized the need for staff education and literacy surrounding sustainability. One of the Library Sustainability Group’s most notable achievements has been its zero-waste all-staff meeting, which was successful due to staff members bringing their own beverage containers and having both recycling and compost bins available for any potential waste. Domashenko has also expressed his hope that the Library Sustainability Group might serve as a precedent for other buildings and departments on campus.

Chris Henke, Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies, was awarded the faculty Oak Award for his work with the local government in the Village of Hamilton. As the Faculty Director of the Upstate Institute, he works to engage the Colgate and Hamilton communities in a reciprocal transfer of knowledge. In this position, he has helped to create the Hamilton Climate Preparedness Working Group, demonstrating the interconnectedness of local sustainability issues. Henke also teaches ENST 390: Community-based Study of Environmental Issues, a project-based, interdisciplinary course that examines current environmental issues in the context of community-based learning. Many students’ projects ultimately reflect the philosophy of community interconnectedness that Henke himself has adopted.

Finally, Christina Weiler ’21 was presented the student Oak Award for her initiative with UCan, which she founded through the Thought into Action (TIA) entrepreneurial incubator. UCan is a beverage container recycling program that donates its proceeds to hunger and homeless outreach organizations in Utica. By integrating her concern for social justice into a recycling program, Weiler demonstrates how sustainability is an integrative discipline that reaches beyond the natural environment. In this way, UCan shows the value of waste management and aims both to help the environment and to spread awareness of social justice. Weiler hopes to extend UCan to other college campuses in the hope of reaching as many students and communities as possible. Weiler also serves as a first-year Sustainability Representative for the Ciccone Commons.

Congratulations to our Oak Award recipients, and thank you to those who attended the Green Summit!

Ask Me What’s in My Bag

By Sustainability Office on May 2, 2018

– Miranda Gilgore ‘18 and Revee Needham ‘18

With an increase in the amount of waste that Colgate has sent to the Madison County landfill (see below) in the past few years, two students wanted to raise awareness issue of waste. Miranda and Revee are interns at the Office of Sustainability who have been collaborating to tackle waste issues on campus. Together they have sorted trash for a waste audit and Miranda attended the PLAN Zero Waste Conference. Inspired by students at NYU and Tufts for their zero waste weeks, recruited 22 students and staff members to participate in Colgate’s first “Carry Your Trash” week. Participants were given a clear plastic bag to display their trash for the week of April 2nd-9th and the chance to win stainless steel straws and bamboo utensils.

We decided to make the week “Carry Your Trash” and not “Zero-Waste” because we recognized there were some privileged ideas surrounding zero waste. While it’s aspirational, and for some people, completely possible to keep all your trash for a year in a mason jar, it’s not always feasible. Going zero waste is a process that requires initial investments in reusable items and the time to create many other items. So, we decided to not have a zero waste week, but instead, encourage participants to live their lives as normally as possible in an effort to help them realize their role in waste production.

Due to health concerns, we didn’t recommend placing any food waste items in the bag and encouraged noting when this waste was produced whenever possible. Traditionally, a zero waste challenge involves composting any food or organic waste, but we were unable to do this.

Colgate. Colgate does have a compost pile at the Community Garden, but it is unmanaged during the winter.For support and ideas, we created a Groupme group with the the participants. Largely, we encouraged participants to do their best, as it wasn’t a competition, and to approach the week as “challenge by choice.”

From Revee’s perspective: I was inspired by watching numerous zero waste videos and by making some changes in my life before the week began. While I recognized the inherent privilege associated with living a zero waste lifestyle, I was confident that I could implement some big changes in my life. During the week, I modified my behavior to avoid generating trash, whether that was by not using a paper coffee filter, bringing my own mug to grab coffee, or making my own iced tea. For the trash that I did generate, I noted instances where that waste could have been avoided, such as by making my own almond milk, buying reusable cotton rounds, or making my own spice mix. Whenever I mention zero waste to someone there is a huge misconception that in order to use the term you need to be 100% zero waste. While that is obviously the goal, I’ve learned that it’s actually more of a zero waste journey, with incremental changes over a long period of time. This has been a main topic of conversation in the Zero Waste Facebook groups that I joined for support and new ideas. Another goal I had personally, and maybe for a future rendition of the week, is to keep track of how much plastic I was generating. While it is recyclable, I’m aware of the negative health impacts by ingesting plastic particles, the impact on plastic litter in the ocean, and its dependence on fossil fuels. Many Zero Waste blogs advocate for avoiding plastic as much as possible because it is often downgraded when recycled, whereas glass and aluminium are much more easily recycled.

From Miranda’s perspective: This undertaking has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now and I was so excited to finally be doing it! Though one of the primary goals of the project was to raise personal awareness of what trash each of us produced in a typical week, I was amazed and inspired by all of the positive feedback I received from so many people. I generally try to be quite mindful of the waste I produce, but I noticed that I was hypersensitive to the trash I was producing during the week and modified my behavior slightly to minimize this as much as possible. Although this may make the week artificial to some degree, being pushed to that awareness means that I discovered zero-waste solutions that I may not have otherwise. I am also cognizant of the fact that I was not always putting trash associated with products I was using in my bag. In some cases, mostly food, I didn’t empty the package and therefore still needed  the packaging. In other cases, such as school supplies, clothing, etc., I had thrown away the packaging upon purchasing the product before the week started. In other instances, like catered or ordered food, the packaging and other associated trash was removed before the product even got to me. Despite all this, I still think Carry Your Trash Week was a worthy project and definitely a success worth repeating! See all of the landfill waste that I generated for the week below.

From participants’ perspectives: Maria Dascalu ‘18 noted that she uses paper towels quite a bit, coming to the solution that she could start bringing a towel up the hill to dry her hands. Ana Tobio ‘18 found that her biggest contributor was tea bags and their packaging, realizing she could reduce waste with loose leaf tea. We also recognized that the participants were not a representative sample of the Colgate community, and wondered how much more trash others produce on a daily basis. Angelica Greco ‘18 pointed out that brown bag lectures produce large amounts of waste, which could be avoided with people bringing their own plates and utensils, or by having the caterer provide reusable dishware.

One of the biggest problems in tackling waste is the lack of agency in limiting the disposal of waste. Once it’s placed in the bin, it seemingly disappears and is out of sight and out of mind. This week caused participants to confront the trash they produce by carrying it around for others to see. Overall, it was a good opportunity to raise awareness for not only the participants but for everyone else who stopped to ask: “What’s in your bag?

Mathematical Models in Environmental Policy

By Sustainability Office on May 1, 2018

– Dana Chan ’19

Ever wondered what math can do for sustainability? The Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications (COMAP) held its annual Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) from February 8-12, 2018 at Colgate University. At the heart of this competition is the construction of a mathematical model that can help predict the outcomes of real-life problems and aid in the search for solutions. One team from Colgate University’s Mathematics Department – composed of Ruoyu (Tony) Guo, Asad Jamil, and Van Tran – chose to create a model that predicts a reliable timeline for a national switch from diesel to electric vehicles. An essential part of their model is tracking the amount of financial resources and time required to build the necessary facilities around the country to make the all-electric vehicle switch possible.

Tony Guo, one of the architects of the model, commented that they were excited to choose an issue that focuses on sustainability because of its relevance to many countries in the world today. Tony highlighted the importance of implementing environmental solutions in developing countries. “Personally, I think in our environmental conditions right now going all-electric is more important for less developed countries, but these countries have limited funds to make it possible. I think in addition to government subsidies, we need more people contributing to this cause and making investments for it to be realistic.”

According to the team’s model for a developed country, using Ireland as an example, an all-electric vehicle switch could come as early as 2050 with the most ideal conditions. However, this will not only cost the Irish government a fortune, but will also be hindered by the lack of existing infrastructure; hence, using more realistic assumptions pushes the date further into the future. The team strived to create a model that can be generalized to various economic states of different countries. In testing their model on a developing country, like Indonesia, the team found the effort for an all-electric vehicle switch much more challenging but still feasible with the right amount of support from government and private entities. The team also took into consideration the viewpoints of the people who live in these countries, assuming that people would be willing to make the switch, though they would be more comfortable if the switch occurred at a slower pace.

The ICM is an example of how interdisciplinary efforts can help push sustainability initiatives forward. Tony comments, “Math gives you a more precise and quantitative way to predict what will happen in the future, and it is reliable, scientific and easy to communicate. It is a tool in all aspects of initiating, planning and carrying out initiatives – it’s actually more useful than people think.”