Faculty Sustainability Committee Addresses Recycling Controversy on Campus


Students often find themselves concerned that the university does not show concern about the environment. However, faculty says sustainability at UT is improving.

How many recycling bins have you seen on campus? A couple in Vaughn; that big one near the health center; possibly one in a laundry room.

Some students complain that the University does nothing to help the environment, according Simon Schuler, physics professor and member of the Faculty Sustainability Committee. While he agrees that recycling bins should be more common on campus, he points out that UT has stepped up their sustainability game in the past couple of years.

“We have to commend the University. They’re doing a good job as far as the new buildings they’re building; they’re all LEED-certified, which means they all meet some pretty high sustainability standards,” Schuler said. “They’ve done a lot on the energy consumption and water usage on campus, so those are good things.”

ICB, Jenkins Hall, the Science Annex and the Dickey Health and Wellness Center have all received LEED certification in the past several years.

The Faculty Sustainability Committee (FSC), which has been at UT since 2008, has worked hard to implement eco-friendly legislation and options for students, one being the water bottle fill stations, five of which the FSC financed. The goal of the FSC is to create a “culture of sustainability and global stewardship” here at UT.

One addition to UT’s sustainability efforts is the solar panel that will potentially be placed on the Thompson building, near Martinez. This was a gift from the 2017 senior class and will potentially give students the chance to research more about solar energy and what it offers. The array is expected to produce 34.5 kW of power.

The sustainability film series, which began in 2016, was a success for the committee and is being offered again this year. Before the Flood was the first film to be shown on Sept. 18 and two more films will make their way to Reeves Theater on Oct. 23 and Nov. 13: Food, Inc. and Death by Design, respectively. The FSC will also bring several speakers to campus later on in the semester to enlighten students about various environmental concerns and advancements.

The FSC also plans to host a 30-day challenge again this year, leading up to Earth Day on April 22. Last year, students implemented sustainable practices, heard from guest speakers and posted selfies on FSC’s Facebook page to promote UT’s sustainability efforts. The winner of the 30-day challenge was awarded a bike.

For the past two years, the FSC has given free reusable water bottles to first-year UT students. Along with the water bottle stations, these water bottles give students the chance to reduce their plastic consumption and create a more sustainability-focused culture on campus.

While all of these initiatives and new services are beneficial, Schuler agrees that the university could be implementing more visible services to increase the sustainability culture.

However, the administration seems to have an unusual lack of interest in sustainability, according to Schuler.

“We submitted a proposal to the administration for enhancing the recycling that’s on campus,” Schuler said. “Compared to other universities, especially other universities like UT, and most cities, recycling is more part of the culture; it’s more part of the utilities.”

Schuler said that USF and other Florida schools have more recycling opportunities and sustainability programs on campus. Several student organizations, along with many faculty members, have been trying to catch up with these other schools.

“The Student Government passed a resolution that they thought we needed more recycling, so that was representative of what the students felt,” Schuler said. “The Faculty Senate passed a resolution saying we need more recycling on campus. We included all of this in our proposal to the administration, and unfortunately, they declined all of our suggestions. They don’t want to put forth the resources required to enhance recycling on our campus. They think those resources can be spent better on other things.”

This year, the Faculty Sustainability Committee will be working with student organizations and staff members more to encourage administration to do more with recycling. Schuler is hoping that spreading the word about the 30-day challenge and other sustainability events will promote recycling on campus, among students and the administration.

“They could do something that students could participate in every day; that faculty could participate in every day to increase the sustainability of our campus, so we’re disappointed about that, but we’re not giving up,” Schuler said.

For students who want to see a change on campus, there are several environmental organizations to join.The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) is a student-run organization committed to promoting sustainability initiatives on campus. In the past, they have worked to increase recycling in dorms and reduce food waste from UT dining by donating it to a non-profit in Tampa Bay. The club also encourages members to take part in FSC’s on-campus events, such as the film series.

“The Film Series is especially great because the SEAC and Roots & Shoots joint meeting is held Monday nights at 8 p.m., so those who attend the films and are inspired to take action can attend our meeting to find out how to volunteer for events that address environmental issues in our own community,” said Lauren Twele, a junior marine science and biology major.

SEAC works to educate students about how to recycle on campus and also collects data from the pilot recycling program in Vaughn. SEAC brings the data to the FSC in an attempt to expand the recycling program.

“We are working on the education side of the process, such as presenting to students on where and how to recycle at UT and auditing the pilot program every month, while FSC takes these results and proposes recycling initiatives to administration,” Twele said.

The Environmental Protection Coalition (EPC), another student organization, works primarily off-campus to promote sustainability and volunteer work in the greater Tampa area. Faith Taylor, a junior marine science and biology major and president of the EPC, says that FSC’s film series was a huge inspiration to her and other club members.

“Thanks to the Faculty Sustainability Committee for their inspiration, the Environmental Protection Coalition will be hosting their own film screening with a panel session in October,” Taylor said. The EPC will be hosting a Riverside cleanup on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. For more information, email Taylor at faith.taylor@spartans.ut.edu.

Roots & Shoots and the Society for Conservation Biology are two other student organizations that promote environmentally friendly lifestyles.

For more information about the student sustainability organizations, visit their respective Facebook pages or ut.edu/studentorgs/.

As the semester progresses and things return to normal after Hurricane Irma, the FSC will continue to work toward better sustainability. Time will tell if UT administration responds positively.

Liz MacLean can be reached at elizabeth.maclean@spartans.ut.edu

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