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Feeding 175 students with no trash

Honors College lunch

AJ Spoth recycles his paper products at the Honors College’s “zero-waste” lunch.

Published May 24, 2013

“We want to demonstrate to the UB community that there is a different, more environmentally sustainable way to do things”
Erin Moscati, Sustainability Education Manager
Office of Sustainability

The task seemed implausible: feed 175 students without producing an ounce of trash. Yet, that’s exactly what UB did last week as it welcomed back students from summer vacation.

The meal, dubbed a “zero waste event,” took place Sept. 6 in the Don Schack Student Lounge inside UB’s Honors College in Capen Hall, North Campus.

Elizabeth Colucci, senior assistant director of the Honors College, announced at 11:30 a.m. that lunch was served. While free, there was a catch: Leftover food must be placed in compost buckets, while paper plates and cups go into biodegradable bags to be recycled later, she said.

Students complied without fuss. It was, after all, a free meal of sandwiches, potato chips and cookies, said Haley Arnold, a sophomore Honors Scholar majoring in chemistry.

“I don’t think I would go to something just because it’s a zero-waste event,” she said. “But I’m happy that the Honors College is doing it.”

In addition to composting and recycling paper goods, Colucci said the Honors College would recycle plastic soda bottles and condiment tubs, and reuse the plastic sandwich trays.

It was the second trash-free lunch served since August by the Honors College, which teamed up with the Office of Sustainability and Campus Dining & Shops to organize the events. The idea, according to Erin Moscati, sustainability education manager in the Office of Sustainability, is to show students, faculty and staff another way to make UB a more sustainable and eco-friendly institution.

UB composts food from its dining centers, has a 750-kilowatt solar power installation and is committed to building energy-efficient facilities, such as the new William R. Greiner Residence Hall. But there is always more that can be done, said Moscati, whose office advocates everything from car-pooling and recycling to renewable energy and zero-waste events.

“We want to demonstrate to the UB community that there is a different, more environmentally sustainable way to do things,” she said.

The message is being heeded by Campus Dining & Shops, Wellness Education Services and the Honors College, all of which compost food scraps, she said. It’s also reflected in UB’s eco-friendly building projects, which, in addition to Greiner Hall, include Barbara and Jack Davis Hall on North Campus, designed for gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

The zero-waste events were aided by Johnston Paper, Auburn, which provided cups and plates at discounted rates, Moscati said. In addition to not generating waste, the events help reduce UB’s environmental footprint and limit garbage collection costs.

“We try to encourage the UB community to think about creative ways to reduce their individual environmental impacts. This project was a success because of the Honors College leadership and their commitment to sustainability,” she said.