From passing resolutions to supporting new infrastructure, here are three Midwest colleges moving their campus and town toward Zero Waste.
With energy, creativity and spunk, college kids are known for starting a movement. From banning bottled water on campus to converting stadiums into massive Zero Waste events, colleges and universities are an incubation hub for Zero Waste initiatives.
But these initiatives often crash into a sizeable obstacle: the lack of community-wide infrastructure and programs. Setting up recycling and composting bins on campus is all for naught if there is no place to take the materials collected.
Students are learning hard and fast that you can’t get your campus to Zero Waste without your city or town onboard too. Fortunately, many students and schools are rising to the challenge and creating partnerships with city leaders to spark a community-wide shift.
What’s driving the success of these “town-gown” partnerships between the city and the college? Overlapping missions and mutual benefits. Both campuses and cities need each other to develop the policies, programs, infrastructure and community engagement that are pivotal to our Zero Waste future.
For example, colleges need local processing infrastructure such as composting facilities to support on-campus diversion goals. To build this infrastructure, cities need the financial and political support of key community players like the college to help fund these investments. The city also needs to the large amount of waste from students to make the facilities run cost-effectively.
Similarly, a community cannot reach its diversion goals without the participation of the students and the college, often the largest waste stream in the community.
From passing resolutions to securing the necessary infrastructure, here are three Midwest universities and colleges driving forward toward Zero Waste, both on campus and in town.
Central Community College-Hastings, Nebraska
Central Community College-Hastings (CCC) is well on its way to its goal of Zero Waste by 2019, and they helped put their city on the Zero Waste path too—Hastings, Nebraska is the first community in Nebraska (and only the second in the Midwest) to adopt a Zero Waste goal!
The college administration was a big part of the community discussion around Zero Waste. The campus president attended a pivotal city council meeting and leaned on the city to formalize its commitment through a Zero Waste resolution. Sustainability Coordinator Minnetta Khan spoke to the need for the college and the community to work in partnership toward Zero Waste: “We cannot make our goals without you and we’re willing to work with you. This is extremely important for our communities.”
For both the town and the college, Zero Waste is about more than just diversion. Both are focused on how to keep young professionals in the region instead of them moving elsewhere. Sustainability and Zero Waste are seen as a core value for younger generations and part of the suite of initiatives that may entice graduates to stay closer to home.
Oberlin College, Ohio
The Oberlin Project is a large-scale joint collaboration between the City of Oberlin, Oberlin College, and other partners to improve the resilience, prosperity and sustainability of their community. This includes working together on climate to reach their shared goals to become “climate positive” and reduce greenhouse gas emissions below zero.
Zero Waste is a fundamental step in achieving these goals and has historically been a great model of collaboration between the city and college. Students produce about half the waste in the community and took responsibility for their impacts by using student fees to help fund improvements to the city’s recycling program.
Oberlin was the first community in Ohio to develop a Zero Waste plan and the college will be instrumental in reaching this goal. Campus programs around Zero Waste events, food waste composting and green purchasing are models for city-wide change. The city also looks toward student volunteers to be the boots on the ground for educating and engaging citizens and businesses.
Ohio University, Ohio
Students at Ohio University are not only helping to move Zero Waste forward in their community—they’ve been instrumental in state efforts as well. Back in 1988, the school helped pass a keystone statewide policy that established more robust recycling programs and set the groundwork for future success.
More recently, Ohio University partnered with Rural Action, a local nonprofit, to form the Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI). Like many campus-community partnerships, one of its main focus areas is student move-out and trying to minimize waste when 30,000 students pack up for the summer.
AOZWI is also focused on regional community issues such as providing recycling infrastructure and access for rural Athens County residents. The initiative has already helped to secure a new recycling facility for Athens and is working with city council to get recycling bins in all public spaces.
Town-gown collaboration reaps local, global benefits
Every college town has had its ups and downs with the town-gown relationship between the city and the college. But with the global challenges of climate change and resource depletion looming before us, it’s time to harness the power of the town-gown partnership for improving the social good. Zero Waste is one of the fastest, most cost-effective solutions to reduce climate change and is a great starting point for students, administrators and local city leaders to reinvest in their town-gown partnership and create both local and global benefits.
Kudos to these colleges and cities collaborating to reduce waste, and here’s to more campuses doing the same!
Need help getting your campus moving? Connect with the Post-Landfill Action Network for valuable tools, trainings and inspiration.
Need help getting your community moving? Start with our 10-year Community Zero Waste Roadmap.