Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Exploring SIU’s sustainability mission

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi, Staff Reporter

SIU has implemented various sustainability initiatives on campus to help the environment but there is still a long way to go to create an environmentally conscious and friendly society.

Faculty, staff and students on the SIU campus recognize the importance of sustainability. From composting, local farms, refillable water bottle stations, and recycling SIU continues to shape an environmentally conscious environment.

Leslie Duram, professor of geography and the director of environmental studies at SIU, focuses heavily on environmental sustainability in her courses. 

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“Sustainability is balancing the economy, society and the environment to provide for the future of the people and the planet,” Duram said. 

Karen Schauwecker, the sustainability coordinator in Sustainability at SIU, spoke on the history of the student initiated sustainability program, the Green Fund. 

“They reached out to a wide variety of stakeholders to build momentum support on campus. They brought it to the student body for a vote and of the students that voted over 70 percent voted in favor of the Green Fee,” Schauwecker said. 

The Green Fund started with a few initiatives and motivated students who were passionate about the environment according to Schauwecker. Students like Brenna Whitley have worked on other sustainable projects on campus like recycling at athletic events. 

Whitley expressed interest in promoting sustainability at athletic events that produce a lot of waste, specifically football. 

“From 9:00 a.m. until after the football game, there are opportunities to connect with fans as well as athletes to talk about how we can be more sustainable at athletic events. We would hand out bags to all the tailgaters prior to the game,” Whitley said.

The Sustainability at SIU has built relationships with grounds and physical service operations to make sure every trash can was matched by a recycling bin at football games. 

“During the game we would station ourselves at the recycling bin and educate with fans as they were throwing away their trash, what was recyclable and what wasn’t,” Whitley said.  

SIU housing pushed sustainable initiative by providing students with the choice to recycle, Schauwecker said. 

 “John Shaeffer proposed to buy small blue bins for the residence hall rooms in Thompson Point.” Schauwecker said.

Schauwecker said a student group wrote a Green Fund grant proposal to purchase blue recycling bins for the Wall and Grand apartments and east campus towers as well. 

SIU sustainability initiatives go beyond implementing recycling bins. Gavin Edwards is an SIU student and manager of the SIU farms compost center.

“In the morning the dining hall brings out the food in trash cans,” Edwards said. “What I do is recycle the food by mixing it with manure from our equine center and adding other ingredients to the compost mixture to get the best compost possible.” 

Edwards said there is no cost to making the compost. Everything that comes into the compost center comes from another part of SIU and goes back into the campus he said. 

“At the end of every day the dining hall separates food from waste and puts it into these green trash cans. Early in the morning the grounds crew picks up the trashcan and brings them to the compost center,” Edwards said.

There are many benefits to using compost materials, Edwards said. 

“It is reused and doesn’t let food or manure go to waste, another benefit is once it is spread around campus it gives plants the inventive to grow because of the natural chemicals that are in the food breaking down,” Edwards said. 

He said he carefully searches for and removes foreign materials when making compost. 

“Anything that can’t be broken down like plastic, rubber, tin foil I need to make sure it doesn’t get into the mixture because it’s not safe for the environment,” Edwards said. 

According to Duram, although recycling and composting reduce greenhouse gas emissions, plastic creates a complex environmental issue.

“From the 1990s to 2017, the US would ship our recycled plastics to China. China took about 50% of all recycled products,” Duram said. “They stopped accepting our recycled plastic because it was causing pollution in China.”

Whitley said plastic can only be recycled one or two times because it breaks down each time it’s recycled.

“The only things that we can recycle on our campus are 1 and number 2 plastics. Only thirty percent of new plastic products can use recycled plastic,” Whitley said. 

The other 70% is created by oils and fossil fuels, Whitley said. Shauwecker said that recycling is ultimately a business. 

 “It’s all based on your local material recovery facility. Southern Recycling doesn’t recycle the items, they bundle the items and sell them to buyers. The buyers then take them to recycling plants to sell them again,” Schauwecker said. 

Since there is so much uncertainty surrounding plastic recycling, Schauwecker, Duram and Whtiley all agree that consumers should make conscious decisions about the products they buy and corporations should make more conscious decisions about the products they produce. 

“Reduce comes first and ultimately I think that is one thing that people can do if they really care about plastics in our environment,” Schauwecker said. 

Whitley said she believes that a sustainable lifestyle isn’t accessible to everyone. It’s the fault of not only the consumer but the corporations to make more environmentally conscious decisions. 

“I think that the corporations have a lot more responsibility for addressing climate change and other sustainability issues because they have been perpetrators of environmental issues,” Whtiley said.  “While we can make significant influence as individuals we need to encourage business and corporations and institutions such as our own at SIU to make better choices.”

Shauwecker said that when the responsibility of saving the environment is placed solely on the consumer, the sustainability movement can become classist. 

“We need to address waste at a systemic level. If you go to the grocery store and everything you want to buy is covered in plastic it doesnt give the consumer the feeling that they are empowered to make an environmentally conscious decision,” Schauwecker said. 

Duram said that everyone can have an environmentally conscious mind.

“Sustainability is not just for one type or person on campus,” Duram said. 

Reporter Oreoluwa Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi

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