Don’t be Trashy: Western’s Movement Towards Sustainability

Western’s reducing its way to Zero Waste

Kennedy Sievers/Senior Staff Writer


Western is a progressive school in many ways, and a true demonstration of this is our Zero Waste Movement through the Masters in Environmental Management (MEM) students, sustainability coordinators, and facilities. The Zero Waste movement is redistributes 90% of the waste created by Western’s campus.

According to Nathan King, Sustainability Director, “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. In a more practical sense, this means diverting as much of our waste away from the landfill as we can through strategies such as reduce, reuse, and recycle. Some universities define it as 90% waste diversion, but this is not always achievable for every university given their location and resources at hand.”

While Zero Waste is a new for Western, it is a progressive concept that has been around for a while. Innovative people who care about the environment have been playing with the concept for quite a while. King says, “It was born from the mindfulness of taking a linear waste stream and making it cyclical instead. Thus, nothing (or very little) is being wasted in the cyclical system. This mimics natural systems in the environment like nutrient cycles or rain cycles. It is the way the earth was intended to operate so that it can sustain itself.”

There are quite a few goals that Western hopes to accomplish through the Zero Waste movement. About their goals, King said, “Our short term goals involve getting to 50-70% waste diversion in the next year or two. Longer-term goals involve creating a Zero Waste athletic event toolkit and having Zero Waste integrated into all parts of university operations. Eventually, we would like to reach that 90% diversion rate that I mentioned earlier.”

This is something that will benefit the environment, as well as Western. Through successfully reaching a Zero Waste status, we will be reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, reducing the amount of money spent on Waste Management services, and helping the environment overall. King said, “Based on research by Western students Sam Kozel, Cassidy Tawse-Garcia, Alyssa Vogan, Stephanie Aubert, and Zach Vaughter, we generate 633,645 pounds of waste per academic calendar year (32 weeks). If you include the summer conference season this number is even larger. We currently divert 24% of this waste from the landfill through recycling, composting, or reusing which means 480,577 pounds still end up in the landfill.”

In order to picture this better, he continued with, “Imagine filling 2 football fields one-foot deep in trash and that would be the equivalent of what Western sends to the landfill! This is a lot of waste and we pay for it by giving Waste Management Inc. about $46,000 or more a year to haul away our trash. Our research shows that we could increase our diversion rate to 71% just through recycling alone.”

Western and the community as a whole would benefit in many ways. According to King, “This would have multiple benefits for Western and our community at large! These benefits include reducing our impact on the Gunnison landfill, reducing our Waste Management Inc contract costs, increasing the recovery of usable materials for future generations, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Zero Waste movement is growing quickly through the help of students that are continuing to get more involved. They are trying many methods to educate students, which can help to get undergrads involved and more educated about Zero Waste. According to Cara Leapley, sustainability coordinator, “We are doing a few thing to educate undergrads. We have a composting station in the cafeteria, which someone sits at to make sure students know what they can and cannot compost. This year we have started to do a few Zero Waste events.”

The group also held two different Zero Waste barbeques where they had several different buckets for different types of waste and educated people on how to properly dispose of the waste. They believe that these events have been instrumental in helping students become more aware of the movement and how to contribute. “We had one at the freshman orientation BBQ and at the Welcome back BBQ so far. At these we have stations for people to throw their food away, but rather then just having on bin where everything goes, we have 4. One for recyclables, one for compost, one for the pig farm, and one that goes to the landfill. We have people at each station to direct people on how to dispose of their waste,” Leapley said.

The Zero Waste movement is also trying to get involved in freshman lives. They appealed to them during freshman orientation week, and Leapley and Taylor Paulson, another sustainability coordinator, helped to organize an orientation event informing incoming students about how to properly recycle and compost. “This year was the first year we tried to incorporate sustainability during freshman orientation. Taylor Paulson and I worked on this together. We made a flier about sustainability at Western to put in all of the freshman folders. We also talked about some of the sustainability projects when students were going on their tours of campus,” Leapley claimed.

The orientation went well and seemed to help bring Zero Waste into the conversation for new and old students alike. “I think that orientation is such a great way to kick start sustainability at Western,” said Leapley. “We really want students to be thinking about it from the moment they start at Western. Hopefully in future years we will be able to expand on sustainability at western even more.”

Student involvement is the most successful way to accomplish the goals set by this group for Zero Waste. The sustainability coordinators handed out compost buckets and still have them available if you’re interested, even if you live off of campus. There are plenty of ways that students can get involved if they are interested. “Students will probably play the most crucial role in helping Western go ‘Zero Waste.’ One way of doing this is to cultivate a zero waste mindset in your day to day life so that you minimize your trash,” according to King.  

There are many ways to reconsider what is actually trash and what can be saved and reused. It can be really easy if you just keep these few steps in mind: “You can do this by remembering the 5 steps to zero waste (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover). It is best to not create any waste in the first place (refuse). If you do have to create some waste, try to make as little as possible (reduce). Then try to find other uses for the waste you want to get rid of (reuse). If you can’t reuse it, then try to recycle or compost it in order to save the value of the resource (recycle). Lastly, use the leftover waste to create new forms of energy,” said King.

There will also be opportunities to get involved as a volunteer for Zero Waste events around campus. Please email Nathan King ( if you are interested in getting more involved!