On November 4, four EcoReps attended the Students for Zero Waste (SZW) Conference organized by the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Erin Mooz '19, Erin Redding '19, Cecilia Shang '18 and Aleks Cvetkovic '18 share their thoughts and takeaways from the conference in this Q&A.
Why did you attend this conference?
I had heard really good things about the conference from the students who attended last year, so I had to see it for myself. Plus, I was eager to learn how students at other schools made progress toward their environmental/sustainability goals — many Princeton students don’t see environmental issues as a priority, so I hoped to learn how to elicit broader interest in our projects.
As we work to make our EcoReps program as efficient as possible, we’re always excited and inspired by what other schools are doing successfully. This conference was a great opportunity to learn from other institutions and gain motivation from other students.
What was your favorite part of the conference?
I honestly think one of the biggest and most impactful parts of the conference was feeling connected and inspired by all the different perspectives, projects, ideas, and approaches to zero waste. The Post-Landfill Action Network really did feel like a network of people and students taking action on this issue of waste in creative and exciting ways. I guess the whole atmosphere was motivating and hopeful - all throughout the day I was scribbling down ideas to bring back to campus.
I was impressed by the implementation of zero waste at the conference. Attendees were instructed to bring their own dishes to eat their meals out of, and could clean them off at dish-washing stations. Food was served in such a way as to reduce the use of disposable materials; potato salads were prepared and served in large coolers, and granola and peanut butter in plastic bag-lined cardboard boxes. In bathrooms, cloth towels were provided as an alternative to paper towels.
What is something you learned at the conference that surprised or shocked you?
Two facts I found particularly striking:
- By 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight).
- If we wasted 15% less food, it would be enough to cut the number of food insecure Americans by 50%.
- On average, a plastic bag is used for 14 minutes before being thrown away.
- I was very surprised that the conference-goers were overwhelmingly female! Why don’t more men care about the environment?
I agree with Cecilia -- by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish!! Also that 10% of landfill waste at Western Washington was coffee cups with 2,500 sold per day!!
What is one major takeaway from the conference that every Princeton student should know?
Switch your focus from recycling waste to minimizing how much of it is produced in the first place. The recycling process itself can be very wasteful, and it’s not always clear what goes into the trash bin as opposed to the recycling bin, so it pays to try to reduce your consumption. This could mean using glass cups at a pregame instead of plastic; refusing a plastic bag in the U-Store in favor of carrying your things in your backpack; borrowing clothes from a friend or shopping secondhand instead of buying things new (ditto for textbooks).
What advice can you give to Princeton students to reduce waste in their daily lives?
Plan ahead! We could eliminate our usage of disposables if we only took a second at the beginning of the day to pack reusable items, such as bags, bottles, and food containers. Since attending the conference I’ve started carrying around a Pyrex container, which I use when I want to get a meal from my eating club to-go. Since there’s a kitchen in my department’s building, it’s super easy for me to wash off the container between classes.
Little changes can really add up over time. Use a reusable water bottle and a reusable coffee cup and opt to use a hand dryer/air dry your hands and you’re already really reducing our campus waste.
All Princeton students, faculty and staff are able to access the Member Resources and Discounts on the PLAN website by registering on their website. Resources include workshops and webinars, the annual zero waste conference, manuals and guides on several zero waste programs and discounts on eco-friendly products.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about PLAN or the membership benefits.