Reducing Society's Impact on the Earth Starts With You and Your Campus Community; KSU Students Hold Their Administration Accountable
By Gentell Esters, Kentucky State University Green Society
When trying to focus on studying, a social life, homework, and a plethora of other things, it can sometimes become hard for students to be consciously aware of how their actions impact their surroundings. Students sometimes don’t realize that the simplest thing, like buying reusable plastic plate rather than single-use paper plates, can immediately affect the world around them. Some of the things you as a student can do in your own life to increase environmental sustainability include turning the faucet off when you’re not using the water, unplugging electronics that are not in use, recycling, reporting leaky faucets, and washing full loads of clothes. The list literally goes on and on.
Recycling is an easy step you can take to reduce your environmental impact. Since the earth’s population is increasing exponentially, our waste is increasing in the same manner. According to the World Bank, countries generate 1.3 billion tons of waste each year and the United States of America is the leading trash generator at 624,700 metric tons per day. Our universities should be leaders in the recycling effort but not all institutions have efficient recycling programs, if they even have recycling programs. A challenge to campus recycling programs is that most people don’t know what is recyclable and what isn’t. Another challenge is that staff and custodians aren’t always aware of what to recycle and how they should go about putting recyclables in the appropriate receptacle.
One of the ways students can educate their campus about recycling is to host a recycling forum that presents the campus community with information about what is recyclable and the positive impact recycling has on our communities. Dumpster diving, which doesn’t always have to involve people literally “diving in the dumpster”, is a very hands-on approach to educating the campus. Physically taking trash out of a recycling bin and placing it in the trash can and vice versa can help people understand what is and is not appropriate to recycle. Hopefully, in the next few years all Kentucky higher education institutions will have the proper knowledge and resources to create and maintain a well-developed recycling program.
KSU Green Society's Recycling Campaign - By Ian Ries
So, two years ago, in 2014, KSU Green Society members approached the president of Kentucky State University to ask for a proper recycling program after noticing there weren't any consistent bins or any noticeable effort. Some offices made their own, but there wasn't really a system. He referred us to a College of Agriculture staff member who expressed the same concern and told us to make a plan, and he would get behind it. So we did some investigating and found out that facilities wasn't even taking what little recyclables we had to the proper dumpsters.
Over the next year and half, we got the school to pay for around 300 new recycling bins for all of campus, met with Republic Services to review the waste services contract, and met with facilities and housekeeping staff to get things moving. We made flyers and stickers and worked on educating the campus. Last summer, that president resigned. Through all of that the facilities leadership changed completely and we had to start over there. About that time our current interim president came aboard and we met with him and he has been very supportive. We also had a firm meeting with the new facilities manager, who is also the chief of police, who was, understandably, mostly oblivious but we started out firm and put pressure on him and so far it seems to be going okay. What we really need to work on now is general campus education.
A lot of our recycling campaign happened under our previous president, Dr. Raymond Burse, who basically said he didn’t have the time for organizing a recycling program but that he would support whatever the students put together. So KSU Green Society members, along with the staff member who is now our club advisor, arranged all the meetings and got the College of Agriculture to buy the bins, etc. We actually spent half a day, got up at 5:00 a.m. and placed every single bin around campus... in the rain. Haha. We did everything and the administration just let us run with it.
Facilities management is now taking care of recycling along with trash, but we continue to monitor their work. That's their job anyway. That was the most frustrating thing. Doing all of this when they are paid to do it.
By Katherine Smith, UK Greenthumb
After nearly five years of persistent and hard campaigning, UK Greenthumb has won its campaign for the University of Kentucky to lower its greenhouse gas emissions. UK aims to reduce its GHG emissions 25 percent below 2010 levels by 2025.The story of our victory has been published by media sources across the country, from Virginia to Texas to California. Our victory is important because it demonstrates the power of a united student voice.
I still remember the first time I ever heard about Greenthumb as a freshman in 2013. Former member Brock Meade was petitioning outside of the old student center and asked me to sign in support of developing a climate action plan at UK. Later, in the fall of 2014, I sought out Greenthumb at the student organization fair and met Caroline Engle who was tabling for Greenthumb that day. I started going to meetings and fell in love with the group’s mission and work, the sense of purpose it gave me, and the amazing people who were involved. Greenthumb helped me feel the empowerment I had been looking for and introduced me to an even bigger network of Kentuckians working for a better future.
Because students took a stand, UK is finally taking some responsibility for its contribution to climate change. As Kentucky’s flagship school, it is important for UK be a leader in environmental stewardship. I hope that UK will make further reduction commitments in an effort to reach zero carbon emissions. Though I appreciate the current commitment, it is simply not enough to have an effective impact before the climate is irreparably damaged. UK Greenthumb will monitor the progress of the current commitment and keep advocating for further reductions.
Greenthumb works not only to improve the environment but also to empower students to get involved. I hope that this victory will inspire even more students to get involved on their college campuses and make the change they want to see.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
Follow The Young Kentuckian on Facebook!