Last year, the Zilkha Center piloted the Green Office Program and asked for volunteers to be “Green Office Liaisons” for their department. These liaisons were asked to work to implement strategies to work towards more sustainable offices via energy conservation, waste minimization, purchasing and other strategies. Katherine Myers, an enthusiastic environmentalist, volunteered on behalf of the Development Office in Vogt House.
One of the first and most impactful programs that she piloted in Vogt House is now known as the “Ditch Your Trash Can” Initiative. Katherine saw a waste audit report in 2017 that showed her that trash bags were the biggest part of the waste stream by volume and noticed that the trash bags were being taken out of the office on a regular basis, independent of what was in the trash bag. Because of this, the trash bags in each trash can were being switched out and disposed of before they had even come close to being full.
To remedy the issue, Katherine suggested that her coworkers get rid of their individual trash cans entirely and put their trash in the larger, more central trash can outside of the offices. To incentivize her coworkers, she offered $5 Tunnel City gift cards in exchange for giving up their trash cans. Katherine reported that each coworker was happy to make the switch and the change has persisted through this year as well. Her coworkers later told her they would have been happy to make the easy change even without the gift card. The ‘66 Environmental Center and a few other buildings on campus have followed suit and asked people to give up their trash cans if they want.
Katherine advocates that this small change “is a sustainable way to be sustainable,” in that, even if Katherine left the building, the practice could still carry on without her, whereas many other sustainability efforts she’s tried have required consistent work from a person or group of people for success. Moreover, the small change is a direct way to make a difference. Even if it is just a few individuals participating, each day, each person has the opportunity to save a plastic bag.
Mike Evans, the Interim Director of the Zilkha Center, has adopted the practice in the ‘66 Environmental Center and found it an easy sell and an easy adjustment. The initiative has now been made part of the Green Office Program with the expectation that each liaison will help bring Ditch Your Trash Can to each department. While Katherine hopes that her idea will spread, she touched on the importance of finding the people in each department who are passionate about environmental work to spearhead their own work in their office. In her opinion, it took someone closely related to the office who knew their coworkers well to ensure the project’s success.
– Lauren Lynch ’23, Zero Waste Intern (2019-2020)