Reduce, Re-use, Recycle is a common phrase, especially well-know by those who are extremely environmentally conscious. In this context, reduce means to use fewer materials, resulting in less waste. Re-use means using something that is seemingly at the end of its life for another purpose. Recycle refers to putting materials into a system that creates other materials born out of what was recycled. Reducing, re-using, and recycling materials helps the environment because
less material is being thrown “away”, which means that landfills should get smaller over time and materials are diverted for better use. This kind of superior system is called a cradle-to-cradle system, rather than a cradle-to-grave system.
(UW Oshkosh's 375KW anaerobic biodigester, located SW of campus across the Fox river near facilities)
These ideas may stem from a priori knowledge or are intrinsic to some individuals. However, a majority of the human population does not overtly consider their waste stream in day-to-day life. Many human beings throw things “away”, without every considering where “away” is. “Away” is place that can be nearby, like a local county landfill. “Away” can also be the ocean, or the shores of a country on the other side of the world, or a field somewhere, where the “garbage” piles stand as high as houses. Often, there are people living in or near “away”. For these people, away is home, and they have to deal with the end-of-life “waste” that crowds their community. The social aspect of waste is tantamount to the environmental havoc that “garbage” wreaks on the natural world, sullying rivers and killing wildlife. Anthropogenic pollution, specifically litter and “garbage” that has not been properly dealt with, but rather has been left on the roadside, or in a park, or tossed out of a moving car, serves as a statement for how much respect humanity has for the health of the environment.
The University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh has taken serious steps in sustainability and analyzed its waste stream to help combat the issues faced by solid waste management. The university is home to the first dry
fermentation anaerobic digestion facility, “the biodigester” – which turns organic waste into energy. When the facility is operating at maximum capacity, it provides an equivalent of 10% of the university’s electricity.
(Pre-consumer food waste from UWO and local food providers waiting to be put into one of four biodigester containment areas)
The facility consumes waste from dining halls and campus grounds, waste that would otherwise be bound for the landfill and creates energy. Through projects such as the biodigester, the university has shown its commitment to improving solid waste management and landfill diversion. A continuation of similar projects will help bring the university to the forefront of the sustainability movement across campuses and will assist the university down the path towards carbon neutrality.
Since the previous plan:
UW-Oshkosh certainly has a long history of recycling from e-waste to paper. Still, the campus has not met its goal of reducing solid waste production by 30% before 2012 from levels in 2000. The campus has made efforts to promote recycling throughout campus and at major events, as well as through campus competitions (Recyclemania). Other targets met include composting campus garden waste as well as identifying drop-off and recycling sites for hazardous materials and chemicals. However, the development of a Solid Waste Management Plan and the creation of a committee to construct and oversee this plan has not been accomplished. General awareness on campus about recycling, and proper disposal or recycling of materials has not been relayed to the campus community to keep them educated about issues related to solid waste.
(CC Image of cradle to cradle process by Zhiying.lim (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)