PLANning our way to Zero Waste

Hundreds of tons of trash are produced on campus every year. From food waste to course packets and even old shoes, trash bins across campus always seem to be overflowing. This semester, Saumya Shinde ‘26 and I are working to assess where this waste is coming from, what the college is doing well in regards to reusing items and reducing waste, and how we can all improve to help reduce the amount of unnecessary waste produced on campus. Our goal is to guide the college on its journey towards reaching zero waste and support best practices that can make our Purple Bubble a cleaner, greener, and more cyclical place.

To complete this college-wide waste assessment, the Zilkha Center has partnered with Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) and joined their Atlas Zero Waste Project, which assists higher education institutions in measuring and reducing waste. As Atlas Fellows, Saumya and I have been working to interview campus stakeholders about their department’s practices in relation to waste. “Interview” may be a strong word to describe these interactions, as many of them end up being more like friendly conversations. We are still in the thick of the process, but so far all of the staff and faculty we have spoken with have expressed excitement towards our work and the goal of reducing waste as well as a willingness to help in any way possible. For example, stakeholders across campus have been kind enough to point us toward other colleagues who they believe could provide insight into our project. These are often people Saumya and I did not think to reach out to, thus ultimately improving our project.

Former Zero Waste Interns Coco Rhum ‘24 and Lauren Lynch ‘23 worked during the 2019-20 academic year to complete the same assessment with PLAN. Despite all their hard work, Williams did not receive a medal for our Atlas achievement levels, thus highlighting the need for an increased focus on zero waste practices on campus. Informed by the Atlas assessment and the waste related goals in the college’s strategic plan, the following year, the Zero Waste Action Planning Group (ZWAPG) was formed and the Zero Waste Action Plan was born. With this living document, stakeholders from across campus have brainstormed, suggested, and implemented new initiatives and practices to help reduce waste, increase circularity, and strengthen programs that bring our campus closer to reaching zero waste.

While there is a long road ahead of us, it is important to highlight the successes our campus has already achieved, no matter the size. When speaking with stakeholders, many interesting and innovative practices have come to light. Did you know frying oil from the dining halls is recycled through a third-party company and transformed into a form of biofuel? What about the plastic bottle ban on campus that is estimated to eliminate 18,000 water bottles from campus waste systems per year just from dining services? Or that office coffee stations across campus have switched from Keurig and other single-use plastic systems to one with compostable coffee pods? The list of innovative practices goes on and on, and I expect that as Saumya and I conduct more interviews, even more exciting programs will be uncovered.

If you or someone you know wants to get involved in zero waste initiatives on campus, please feel free to reach out to Saumya, sss6, Mike Evans, mae3, or myself, bdl4. We would love to hear your suggestions on how Williams can improve waste infrastructure and are always inspired by your own innovative practices!

Brian Lavinio ’24 is a Zero Waste intern for the 22-23 academic year at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams College.