College to Landfill: Resource Management and Waste

Steffaney Wood-

The increasing size of the student body affects the generation of waste and use of resources by the college as a whole—an aspect that has not gone unrecognized by students, faculty, and staff alike. This semester, there exist a variety of sustainability efforts focused on waste.

Notably, the effort to compost, as the Physical Plant compost had not been running until a few weeks ago. The Information Technology Services (ITS) Advisory Committee is considering a more centralized printing and copying system to reduce on campus paper usage. Student group “Campus as Lab” continues to investigate obstacles related to recycling on campus. And many Patterson Court Council (PCC) organizations have been donating their food leftovers to Mooresville Soup Kitchen.

Typically, the Physical Plant composts designated waste from the Union Café and Vail Commons. However, due to liability issues with work study students and a shortage of other staff to run the compost, the waste in compost bins on the Union Café floor has been going to the landfill.

Director of Sustainability Yancey Fouché said, “We began composting in mid-October. Each fall there’s typically a lag of several weeks before composting can begin, due to the time needed to hire and train student employees who process campus food waste each weekday. This year the delay was longer because the involved departments (Dining, Physical Plant, Sustainability) took an opportunity to review the compost facilities and process with a careful eye towards safety of student employees. The processing of a food item from Commons plate to finished compost takes many steps by a number of different players. The process is also permitted by the state, so annual reports must be filed and process changes take time for state review.”

In addition, ITS has been collecting student Pawprint data for the past several years, which shows that the amount of printing has been gradually decreasing. Yet, as Deputy CIO and Director of ITS Core Services Kevin Davis explained, the heaviest 2% of users can account for up to 8.5% of total student usage. By location, the E.H Little Library, Alvarez College Union, and Chambers are the most popular places for students to print. Also, Belk and Tomlinson residence halls print more than other living locations, with approximately 32,5000 sheets per month.

“As a senior, I would say that I print less now than I did my freshman year since my intro level classes had a lot more articles than my current classes, which have more books. Also, I think many professors allow students to use their laptops in class, so maybe there’s less of a need for endless printing,” said Sara Reiling ‘18.

“Campus print management is on the table for discussion this year by the ITS Advisory Committee. I serve with this group and look forward to diving into the data further to understand what’s behind the trends. Broadly, I see two areas of opportunity to reduce our printing impacts: changes in policy and practice that can be administratively enforced, and demand-side management. Pre-setting all network printers to double-sided or requiring the purchase of recycle-content paper are two examples of possible administrative adjustments. Pawprint represented a first step to demand side management by bringing awareness to printing volumes—it seems to have had an impact,” stated Fouché in reaction to the Pawprint data.

Fouché continued, “Specifically which recommendations the committee makes should follow a careful investigation of actual needs. Do we need to print multiple, single-sided meeting minutes and agendas for attendees to scarcely glance at before a campus group meeting? There are probably other ways to get that information across. Do some academic disciplines and individual learners have valid reasons to prefer print to electronic tools? Perhaps. Re-thinking historically paper-based processes can be intimidating for some faculty and staff, but also offers exciting opportunities to be creative. Students will likely adapt to the culture and requirements that are set up for them by their professors and staff colleagues.”

Trends show that student printing has slowly decreased since the 2009-2010 academic year. it is important to note that “sheets” refers to sheets of paper, and pages could be printed double-sided (e.g. one sheet printed double-sided would be 2 pages). Data for 2011-2012 was not available. Data courtesy of ITS, graphic by Steffaney Wood

Students have also dealt with barriers in promoting environmental awareness. The Periscope Energy and Water Dashboard that once tracked building and dorm usage is no longer accessible, ceasing the Environmental Action Coalition’s (EAC’s) annual “Do It in the Dark” energy-saving competition.

EAC Vice President Julia Cardwell ‘19 explained, “The EAC has traditionally held ‘Do It in the Dark’ in the month of October as an energy-saving competition between the residence halls and PCC organizations using energy information provided on an online dashboard specific to Davidson. This year, however, the dashboard is not functional so we came up with another way to draw attention to our energy use here at Davidson. Over common hour this Thursday, the Union will go dark in an event we’ve titled ‘Lights Off Davidson’ to remind us how easy it is to save energy and the environmental and financial cost of high energy use.”

Overall, printing accounted for 2% of the college’s carbon footprint in 2016. Fouché emphasized the constant room for improvement and lauded student efforts to mitigate waste, though there will be many more efforts necessary to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in accordance with the college’s 2010 Climate Action Plan.

“It’s not the most glamorous job on campus, but the students are rightfully proud to contribute in a very tangible way to keeping 2,000 lbs of food waste from Commons and Union Café out of landfills each week…A number of folks—students and staff—work really hard to divert Davidson’s food waste from landfill,” stated Fouché