Campus News

Sustaining sustainability on campus during pandemic

Jason Perry, program coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, rides an electric Bulldog Bike Share bicycle along the Oconee River Greenway. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

UGA is working to mitigate the environmental impact of pandemic-related changes on campus

From getting around campus to mask-wearing to eating lunch, COVID-19 has changed a lot about how the University of Georgia community goes about its day on campus this fall.

Just as the university has adapted its operations to create a safer campus environment, UGA is making some changes to keep its commitment to sustainability. And it’s going to take some individual adjustments by the UGA community to help make that happen.

The generation of waste is one of the most significant sustainability challenges on campus this semester, said Kevin Kirsche, director for UGA’s Office of Sustainability.

“There has been an increase in single-use and disposable items,” he said. “From masks to food service wares, our campus, like many others, has seen a temporary increase in waste generation.”

Given the safety measures in place on campus—for example, the university has spread out its seating areas and is offering more takeout options to encourage socially distanced dining—an increase in single-use items is understandable.

But UGA has been working to mitigate that impact in several ways.

UGA’s Efforts

UGA Dining Services is offering paper straws and fiber-based takeout containers made from renewable sources. Both of these are compostable. The Niche Pizza Co., in the Tate Student Center’s Bulldog Café, places paper sheets at the bottom of its pizza boxes to shield it from the pizza grease. That way, the cardboard is still recyclable. Regular reusable plates are still available for meal plan customers who choose to dine-in at O-House or the Village Summit.

What’s recyclable on campus?

And thanks to an expansion of recyclable materials, used paper coffee and soft drink cups are now recyclable (just be sure to empty and rinse them first).

There are other efforts as well.

The Facilities Management Division and the Office of Sustainability rolled out the Deskside Waste Reduction Program to encourage faculty and staff to manage their own office waste streams so that Facilities Management staff can focus on more critical cleaning tasks. So far, this has amounted to an estimated time savings equivalent to 1.35 full-time employees and has eliminated the use of small plastic trash bags in more than 50 UGA departments.

Other sustainable programs, like Bulldog Bike Share and the 20 100% electric buses that serve campus, complement these efforts.

How the campus community can help

And then there are steps that the campus community can take to help with the effort. Kirsche encourages people on campus to:

  • Use a reusable, washable mask instead of a disposable one.
  • Pack reusable utensils from home rather than getting the disposable ones for takeout. Plastic utensils cannot be recycled.
  • Bring your own coffee mug and water bottle. For those in need of a reusable bottle, the Office of Sustainability and Dining Services have partnered to collect, sanitize and redistribute lost and found bottles at no cost. Visit the Office of Sustainability or email sustain@uga.eduto request one.
  • Get to know what can and cannot be recycled on campus and look out for compost bins to dispose of food items and related paper products.
  • Try out a Bulldog Bike to get across campus.
  • Any current UGA student who has an idea to enhance sustainability on campus or in our local community is encouraged to submit a Campus Sustainability Grant proposal (deadline is Nov. 16).
  • Stay well. Practice social distancing. Offer grace to yourself and those around you, and look for ways to enhance your part of the campus community.