Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chico State University

I have been quite remiss in posting about Chico State University, a school I have grown quite fond of, but figured it was high time.  I'm going to have more on them on the new site which launches tomorrow, but for now, here are a few tidbits.

I have spoken several times up at Chico and it absolutely astounds me what they are doing there on the sustainability front.  They have a dorm that is sustainability minded, sharing and growing food, exploring the waste stream they create, and even composting with worms (how could i not love these folks?).  They also have an entire student led association that goes through all of the trash and picks out anything usable before it is discarded and then has it free for students to use.  Im not talking trash here (pun intended), I;m talking about a wrehouse full of boks, notebooks, stereo systems, you anme it, most of which is free for the taking.  It's truly amazing and a testament to what a dedicated few can do.

Last year, they actually undertook a two week trash challenge, but with a twist.  The trash had to be carried around and couldn't be farther than something like 10 feet from you at any time. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that my wife would not have gone for that.  Anyway, here's a note from one of the participants that i am just now getting around to.

As for Chico, well, much more to come.


Zero Waste Challenge 2008
California State University, Chico

The Zero Waste Challenge is an exercise used to demonstrate the linear way in which we use resources. The idea of the challenge is to carry around a transparent bag for two weeks, and into that bag goes everything that is not compostable, recyclable, or reusable. Essentially, anything headed to the landfill was placed in this bag—which had to be five feet or less from our bodies the entire two weeks. And whichever participant has the lease amount of trash generated by the end, is proclaimed the Zero Waste Champion.

This Challenge is important for not only just myself to do, but anyone and everyone. It is valuable because it is a quantified visual statement that says, “This is my waste and I take responsibility for it.” As a species, we deal with non-reusable waste in such a nonchalant manner. A piece of trash is simply tossed into the waste stream and forgotten about. Gone. Somebody else’s problem. ‘Away’. BUT this challenge is not only of value for the participants, but also in generating meaningful conversation with non-participants, and getting them involved through word of mouth. And, also, to get them thinking about their own waste patterns.

Things that come as a surprise not only to me but in general as to how few things that are plastic are not recyclable, despite the presence of the chasing arrows. Things such as Styrofoam, any type of single-use plastic container including coffee cups and red cups aren’t recyclable! As for the participants as a whole, it was great to hear the conversation of what actually goes in the bags: is this compostable? Is that recyclable? Can I reuse this? Not only was it a great visual for all of us, but many people enhanced their knowledge of the waste stream.

Two concepts really struck me during this challenge. One was the idea of ‘away’. In our vernacular, we simply say that something has gone away when we toss it into the trash can. Away is an adverb, not a place. Nothing can truly go away; it must go somewhere. For the purposes of this exercise, things go ‘away’ to the landfill. There is no such thing as ‘away’ in the physical sense. I have been to the landfill and it is eye-opening. The landfill in our county of Butte is 30 stories tall, the tallest person-made structure in the county. This ties into the second concept that sticks out to me: matter cannot be created nor destroyed. That is the First Law of Thermodynamics, which demonstrates that we live on a finite planet with limited resources. If we keep sending things to the landfills and not back into the natural capital of the earth, all living things will be at a disadvantage.

Everybody should at least examine their contribution to the waste stream. If the idea of living a life that feeds the system that feeds you appeals to you, then taking a look at waste habits is a good place to start. I have learned through the Zero Waste Challenge to Reduce, Reuse, and Compost. Recycling (downcycling) is ok too, but it is an energy intensive process. I encourage anyone to participate in their own personal challenge, or to get a group of people together and challenge each other.

Peace and love
Mark H
Senior, Environmental Justice Major
CSU Chico


GreenieJoy said...

This is a great post! I really liked the letter and it sounds like a cool college! Its sad how much stuff gets thrown away on college campus's. It would be awesome if all universities would go threw the trash (especially at the end of the year when everyone throws away practically brand new tvs, computers and such in the dumpster :() and then to give it to other students for free. What a great program this college has! Love the dorm idea too! That's very awesome!

Jennifer Feddersen said...

I'm so glad you did this blog so I don't have to!

I'm working on halving my family's stuff and consumption over at www.halvingitall.blogspot.com, and as an offshoot I've just launched a companion blog documenting everything we purchase this coming year (www.thehonestconsumer.blogspot.com). Since I try to get pass something on each time I get something new, I began thinking about whether or not to document that as well. Which led, of course, to thinking about trash.

Luckily a quick google search brought me here and I am spared the job of photographing my trash on a daily basis. Good work and great job keeping it up for a whole year!

VG said...

This is really interesting. I hadn't known what the Zero Waste challenge was before this (it sounded very intimidating, though). Should I get to a job at some point in the (hopefully near) future where I didn't think that my boss would attempt to fire me for hauling my trash around, I might actually do this.

Another, totally unrelated thing that I found interesting is that not closing the italics tag in a blogger post will, apparently, cause all text on the page after the post to appear in italics, even if it wasn't part of the original post. *files that bit of trivia away for a rainy day*