Moving Towards Zero Waste: ZC Intern Project Updates

Moving Towards Zero Waste: ZC Intern Project Updates

Here is a round up of the projects that the ZC’s Zero Waste interns have worked on during the fall semester and Winter Study.

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Q: Wait… what is “zero waste”?

A: The concept of zero waste goes beyond reducing municipal solid waste volumes via recycling and composting to encouraging a more circular approach to using resources, in other words moving from the cradle-to-grave model to a circular cradle-to-cradle approach that reduces the need for virgin materials and emphasizes reusing and repurposing.  What can we do to reduce consumption and send less waste to incineration or landfills?  Of course, this requires applying a systems approach to viewing the problem and cannot be solved by Williams alone, but we should, nonetheless, ask ourselves, how we can think differently about the lifecycle of products. 

Q: What is the college doing related to zero waste?

A: The college’s Zero Waste Action Plan (ZWAP) details our strategies for achieving the zero waste related goals articulated in the college’s strategic plan.  The ZWAP prioritizes creating a more circular campus by reusing hard goods such as furniture, construction materials, and other valuable material resources.

Q: OK. So are the interns’ projects one-offs or are they part of  the campus-wide efforts?

A: The short answer is the latter, but there are occasionally stand-alone projects that weren’t identified in the strategic plan or the ZWAP that rise to the surface because of windows of opportunity or student passion about a certain project.

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Image of furniture storage
One of the college’s storage rooms in the Norad Mill

Hard Goods Storage & Repurposing      In an effort to improve current reuse systems and to get a better handle on the college’s surplus capacity and needs, the Zilkha Center is working with Planning Design and Construction and Facilities to conduct comprehensive inventories of the furniture storage spaces in the Norad Mill and additional campus storage areas and set up systems that integrate with current practices of dropping off and picking up furniture.  Charlotte Luke ‘25 began this project in the summer, Brian Lavinio ‘24 continued it in the fall, and Khedija Shafi ‘26 and Camily Hidalgo ‘26 have continued it this Winter Study.  The Zilkha Center and PDC continue to explore possibilities for improved hard goods storage spaces.

Zero Waste Event Guide

Zero waste event guide snapshot

The goal of ZW Event Guide is to provide anyone interested in hosting an event (students, staff, or faculty) with guidance for how to decrease and ideally eliminate waste that goes into the municipal solid waste stream.  Saumya Shinde ‘26 is currently continuing the work started by Charlotte ‘25.  In the coming days, she will send out a draft for beta testing and feedback to some campus partners who are interested in using the guide; after incorporating input from stakeholders, the ZC will publish the guide early in the spring semester.  Hosting ZW events often requires infrastructure and the Zilkha Center will purchase dishware plates, cups, and silverware and then create two “dish kits” that could be checked out by groups who are interested in using reusable dishware to decrease waste at their events.

Swag          Swag (promotional or marketing items) is often made from plastics, is generally cheap, and disposable or of limited durability.  In the interest of decreasing consumption and waste, the Zilkha Center has started conversations with departments and student gImage of the hierarchy of swag - first trying not to use it, but purchasing higher quality when you mustroups to think through if and how the outcomes they hope to achieve by using swag might be reached in different ways. Saumya ‘26 and Lena Salamanca from the Provost’s Office are collaborating with ‘68 Center for Career Exploration to rethink and pilot a new approach to swag.  Lena and Saumya are also working on creating a Swag Guide that will be integrated into the Zero Waste Event Guide and posted on the sustainability website as a resource.

Waste Bin Standards Project           In partnership with Dining and Facilities, the Zilkha Center is working to create a campus waste bin standardization guide.  These standards would apply to all types of bins and signage – and would include guidelines for bin appearance (shape, color, and lids), signage, and accessibility.  Saumya ‘26 has continued the work started by Pat Klugman ‘25 this summer to codify the processes on campus that work and bring in recommendations of zero waste best practices.  After initial conversations with stakeholders, ZC will put together a draft and will solicit feedback from campus partners to ensure that the final product is usable and useful to all departments, particularly operational departments.

Zero Waste Mini-Video Series          This January, Khedija ‘26 and Camily ‘26 have worked on a series of short (30 seconds to 1 minute) videos that, when finished, will provide helpful information about which items go in which bin and highlight zero waste initiatives that are happening across campus.  Keep an eye out for this on the ZC Instagram and the college’s Instagram as well.

Image of indoor tag sale
The Fall Tag Sale inside the First Congregational Church

Measuring the Impact of the Give It Up! Program/ Fall Tag Sale           The Give It Up! Program, which is led by CLiA in partnership with Facilities and the ZC, enables students to donate unwanted items that are still in good shape.  The donations go to a handful of organizations but the majority of hard goods are donated to the First Congregational Church, which vets, cleans, sorts, and stores items over the summer and then sells them to students at discounted rates in the Fall Tag Sale.  To better understand both the amount of donations collected/items kept out of the trash and the environmental impact of reusing these items, the ZC partnered with the church to conduct a sales inventory.  This month, Khedija ‘26 has organized the data and conducted research in order to calculate the embodied carbon emissions saved by reusing items rather than students buying them new.

 

 

 

Upcycling surplus denim      In partnership with ABC Clothing, Camily ‘26 is creating a DIY/crafting event to repurpose surplus denim and turn them into reusable tote bags, which will be donated to a local food pantry.  The main goal is to provide an educational opportunity for students and our recipients to learn about the importance of reuse and plastic waste reduction.  If you are interested in participating in this event and/or have a sewing machine that you would like to bring to the fabrication event, please fill out this interest form. No sewing experience necessary!  We will announce the date, time and location so keep an eye out for this on the ZC Instagram to sign up for the event.

Sharing Surplus “Leftovers”       We all know what it’s like to have leftover supplies taking up space in our offices, club spaces, and/or dorms.  We may have over-ordered office supplies or the decorations are reusable, the event we bought them for has come and gone, and now we’re trying to figure out what to do with the supplies. CLiA and the Zilkha Center received a few emails from various departments this summer/fall asking for help with finding new homes for various items.  Brian ‘24 spent part of the fall meeting with various groups to understand the state of their “leftovers” and if folks wanted to simply pass these items on or offer them up as a loan.  After organizing their extras, some offices have been able to find homes on their own.  Brian will continue to explore avenues for increasing transparency on the availability of such items and finding a new use or user for them, in short, keeping them in circulation.

Campus convenience store       The idea of a student-facing campus convenience store has arisen several times over the years: providing students and possibly faculty and staff with easy access at affordable prices to some key necessities that always seem to run out at an inopportune time such as toothpaste, tissues, soap and batteries would help reduce shipping-related greenhouse gas emissions, cut down on packaging, and keep more dollars in the local community.  Such a store could support several Zero-Waste Action Plan goals. Brian ‘24 has begun to research best practices of convenience stores at other college campuses and to explore what it might look like at Williams.

Sustainable 3D-Printing        This project consists of repurposing single-use PET plastic bottles to create filament for 3D printing.  Students will use the filament to produce plant pots that can be used for gardening and potentially dorm-size small composting bins for students at the Sustainable Living Community.  Camily ‘26 began this project, a joint ZC and Makerspace collaboration, during Winter Study and will continue it into the spring semester.  The Sustainable Living Community is one of the partners that will make this event possible.  If you are interested in being involved, please contact Camily (cch2).