University of Texas might not reach President Gregory Fenves' 2020 zero waste goal

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Nivva Emmi, a business honors pre-med sophomore, uses the new recycling bins in the McCombs School of Business. These bins have been implemented to help UT become a zero waste campus, which the University originally hoped to reach by 2020.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Garabedian | Daily Texan Staff

Zero waste on campus by 2020 has been a goal since UT President Gregory Fenves announced the Sustainability Master Plan in 2016. However, UT’s overall diversion rate of waste from landfills is only at 40 percent, with less than one year until the deadline.

McKenzie Beverage, Zero Waste senior program coordinator, said she is unsure if the University will hit the zero waste goal by 2020, but the program is working hard to make it happen.

“I don’t feel great about the prospect, but it doesn’t mean we are going to stop the effort,” Beverage said. “So we’ve been talking a lot about that … and if we need to come out and formally say, ‘Yes, we can do this,’ or ‘We need a couple more years.’ Regardless, the effort is not going to stop.”

In order to reach the 2020 goal, UT’s Zero Waste program is implementing different initiatives such as the Zero Waste Workspace, which will work on composting paper towels around campus.

In addition, the program just finished relabeling recycling bins in the McCombs School of Business to make it easier for students to dispose of waste correctly.

“We can’t achieve zero waste without really, really incorporating compost at a serious level,” Beverage said. “To be safe, I probably want to say … maybe three more years, 2023. (But) after the pace picks up with some of these implementations, I’ll probably change my mind (about the timeline).”

The plan also incorporates other UT organizations, including UT Athletics. The UFCU Disch-Falk Field reached the zero waste standard of 90 percent diversion, and Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium reached an all-time high of 76 percent diversion this past fall.

“If we don’t start complying with zero waste, campus can’t succeed because (UT Athletics produces) between 10 and 15 percent of the waste generated in total on campus in a year,” said Lauren Lichterman, operations and sustainability coordinator for UT Athletics.

 

Food packaging is one the University’s biggest obstacles for zero waste on campus because students and companies bring food packaging onto campus that is not compostable, Beverage said.

Lichterman said DKR and Disch-Falk Field are able to control trash production because vendors have done a “fantastic job” complying with zero waste standards. However, UT Athletics may also come short of the 2020 zero waste goal.

“Football and baseball have been so labor-intensive, which we are proud of, but the overall goal to hit zero waste in all athletic facilities is probably not happening,” Lichterman said. “But we are on track to continue moving the needle forward.”  

Beverage said the University has a long way to go, but UT’s sustainability department is working on zero waste every day. George Roth, sustainability studies sophomore, said he feels slightly frustrated the University will not reach the goal, but knows it takes a community effort.

“I know UT is committed to reaching the zero waste goal, even if it isn’t by 2020,” Roth said. “However, zero waste will also require students to act and demand such options all around campus so that zero waste becomes second nature.”