Your homework: Find an environmental problem on campus, and fix it! Increasing sustainability at the UM food court

davesquaregreenuIn the fall of 2012, I took a class entitled “Using Communications to Influence Health and Environmental Policy: Theory and Practice”. The readings and discussions were fascinating, but what really got me excited was the semester project. Working with a group of other students, we were asked to identify an environmental problem on campus, and come up with a detailed plan to fix it. Our group was concerned by the lack of sustainable and recyclable options at the University of Miami’s food court, and focused our project on that issue. Below are modified excerpts from our group’s final project (the full document is approximately 50 pages). Though the class is over, I and others from my group will still be working with the University’s Office of Sustainability to help implement our project in the coming months. We welcome your feedback, suggestions for improvement, and assistance in achieving these goals! 

That's it- only trash cans. There are no recycling bins in the food court.

That’s it- only trash cans. There are no recycling bins in the food court.

The University of Miami has made a series of public commitments to campus sustainability, but progress has been extremely slow. One of the most obvious and public examples of waste occurs in the food court. Located in a central area of campus, the UM food court has over 3,000 transactions each day, and serves students, faculty, and visitors alike. Most of the food court restaurants provide packaging materials, plates, cups, and utensils that are not recyclable. Almost 2,000 pounds of plastic wrappers and utensils are thrown away every week, a figure that does not include the national chain restaurants. There aren’t even recycle bins located in (or near) the food court for the few recyclable materials provided by vendors!

The first step was determining what other universities do to reduce waste at their on-campus restaurants. We evaluated reports on this topic by four leading institutions: the Sierra Club, the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowment Institute, and the Princeton Review. Interestingly, no schools appeared on all four reports’ lists of the schools with the best sustainable practice, but Oberlin College appeared on 3, and three schools (University of Washington, Cal Tech, and Arizona State) appeared on 2 lists each. No schools located in the state of Florida were on any list, but the (relatively) nearby University of Florida received an overall grade of a B+.

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