A campus sustainability division and partnerships with Athens-Clarke County cement the University of Georgia’s commitment to social, environmental and economic stewardship.
The UGA Office of Sustainability is focused on teaching, research, service, student engagement and campus operations to address grand challenges through local solutions. The division offers students experiential learning opportunities and internships at organizations across Athens. Students can earn a sustainability certificate while partnering with faculty, staff and community organizations to create meaningful and positive change.
“Our commitment is to develop inspired leaders, stronger communities and thriving natural systems,” said Kevin Kirsche, director of the Office of Sustainability. “We all benefit from stewardship of natural resources, and one easy place to start is by reducing the amount of waste that we generate.”
Kirsche points out that these initiatives do not stop on campus. The division partners with the ACC government, local schools and nonprofit organizations to reduce waste, promote recycling and increase awareness.
“UGA has done a great job with sustainability efforts on campus and has been a great partner to ACCGOV off campus through internships, volunteer programs and event participation,” said Suki Janssen, solid waste director of ACC. “We appreciate their contributions to the ACC waste division goals.”
Programs across campus have already made a major impact.
Research by UGA Dining Services showed that diners with trays would take more food than they would actually consume, meaning thousands of pounds of untouched food was discarded. In 2015, Dining Services partnered with the UGA Office of Sustainability to remove the trays to save more than 107,000 pounds of food and, because there are no trays to wash, 16,500 gallons of water per semester.
In addition to going trayless, Dining Services converted to 100 percent compostable items in the dining halls. There are no more plastic bags at dining facilities and all teabags are now silk. Pizza boxes at the Niche Pizza Co. are collected and recycled through a partnership with the Office of Sustainability and the Facilities Management Division, and Dining Services helped Panda Express implement a compostable takeout container.
Additionally, 20 noncompostable condiment products were replaced with bulk condiment dispensers, saving more than 1.5 million items from heading to the landfill in the first six months after the dispensers were installed in 2015. All organic waste is now sent to the UGA Bioconversion Center, creating a composting resource and saving thousands of pounds per week from heading to local landfills.
UGA’s housing department has also set out to create a community of sustainable thinkers.
“We’re in a unique role because we’re the home of our new students who will be living in Athens for the next four years,” said Christy Tweedy, sustainability coordinator for UGA Housing. “Our goal is to educate our 8,000-plus residents on how they can access these resources so they can be responsible environmental stewards and leave ACC better than they found it.”
Housing hosts a sustainability fair with campus and community organizations where residents can learn about academic and volunteer opportunities and ways to be greener in their own lives, such as making their own shampoo and hand sanitizer, or simply refilling their own water bottles to eliminate plastic waste. Housing has also installed composting bins in many of the residence halls that are collected by student interns in the Office of Sustainability using an electric bicycle.
During move-in, plastic film and plastic foam from new furniture and appliances are collected by the ACC Recycling Division and taken to the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials in Athens. During move-out, more than 20 donation sites are set up around campus for the Dawgs Ditch the Dumpster and Donate program, allowing residents to donate furniture, unopened food, clothing and other items to organizations around Athens. This keeps more than 50,000 pounds out of the landfill.
While the university has already taken great strides, Kirsche predicts continued growth and partnerships in the future.
“We’re seeing tremendous interest from our students who are passionate about improving their communities and being good citizens,” he said. “One way that we can be good neighbors is to become educated and make wise and responsible choices, and we certainly anticipate that we’ll continue to expand those opportunities.”