It’s a Sign: Williams Updates Campus Waste Signage

You have likely seen them popping up across campus – purple, blue, and green signs affixed to and above bins across campus, clarifying what can be disposed of in each bin. They are new, eye-catching and hopefully helpful to all of us at that inevitable moment when you look down at whatever it is you have in your hand, and pause … trying to figure out which bin it should go in. For now, here is a quick dive into the behind-the-scenes thinking and work that goes into something as seemingly simple as new signs.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a well-known sustainability tagline that has been floating around our general consciousness for decades. The origins of the “Three R’s” can be traced back to the burgeoning environmental movement in the 1970s. If we stop to think about it, we know we should be trying to do these things as much as possible, in that order.

The Zero Waste Hierarchy (of Highest and Best Use) aims to enhance and deepen the three R’s and to, “encourage policy, activity and investment at the top of the hierarchy; and to provide a guide for those who wish to develop systems or products that move us closer to Zero Waste.” The Zero Waste Hierarchy is a guiding philosophy of the certification platform that Williams uses to assess the state of its campus waste infrastructure, policies, and systems and to draft goals and strategies related to waste in the college’s Zero Waste Action Plan. In short, the Zilkha Center and other campus zero waste partners are interested in rethinking how we use things, purchase better, purchase less, repurpose more, and in the end, throw less out.

From that foundation, the next step has been improving our waste management and collection systems in order to right-size the infrastructure (think bins) and clearly communicate what goes where. Starting about three years ago, campus stakeholders have been working to rethink our waste bins – moving from a system with an outdated color scheme that prioritized trash to our current system. Increasing the legibility and color scheme of the bins was step one, and step two has been to more clearly communicate what goes where.

In order to rethink waste communications, the Zilkha Center and Facilities turned to our colleagues in the College’s Communications Office to see how we might convey the right amount of information – not too much or too little – and do so in a way that would be eye-catching but not too loud. Senior Designer Zoë Spring and Art Director Eileen Bellamy waded into understanding the various bin types and worked on designs that would align with both the college’s visual identity as well as internationally recognizable waste colors. They shared preliminary designs with the Zero Waste Action Planning Group, and after a couple of back-and-forths, they settled on the colors that you see around campus today – mostly vertical decals for the bins plus signs/posters above bins and on built-ins. Ricky Harrington, a Custodial Manager in Facilities Operations, worked with the custodial teams to double check and inventory campus waste bins. Ricky, Zoë and I met with folks in the Facilities Trades shop – Jeremy Burdick and Nate Pare – to discuss the installation and application of the decals. Ricky, then, put together a phased approach to try to tackle buildings one at a time through the spring, and the Trades teams launched into putting the signs up across campus?

As you’ve seen, the installation has gone quite quickly. Paresky, Sawyer, EcoCafe, Griffin Hall,Goodrich Coffee Bar, Driscoll, Weston Athletic, Weston Hall, Hollander, and Schapiro have all been outfitted. The posters are starting to go up as well. Of course, bins and signage are just two pieces of the zero waste puzzle; rethinking, reducing, and reusing are the priority. That said, hopefully these puzzle pieces will help us to decrease contamination in the recycling and compost and perhaps nudge us towards generating less to begin with.