Waste prevention is catching on at college campuses across the country, according to a recent re-port by Inform, an independent non-profit research group based in New York. "Students and staff are coming up with some very creative ideas for saving money and reducing the solid waste that campuses generate," said David Saphire, author of In-form's Making Less Garbage on Campus: A Hands-On Guide.
Because they must feed and house people, operate of-fices and facilities and maintain grounds, educational institutions' appetite for goods and materials is huge. So is their waste output (see diagram). With approximately 14.5 million students enrolled in colleges and universities a-cross the United States in 1992, campuses generated 3.6 million tons of waste, or about 2 percent of the U.S. solid waste stream.
Fortunately, dozens of waste preventive programs have already been implemented on U.S. campuses. Some are isolated initiatives in bookstores or cafeterias; others are part of comprehensive campaigns.
Where are the biggest opportunities on campus for preventing waste? Offices, classrooms and photocopying centers offer abundant opportunities for reducing waste, according to Saphire. For example, the University of Oregon's Reusable Office Supply Exchange makes surplus office supplies available to staff and faculty, re-portedly saving the university $15,000 each year in office supply costs.
Also, the book store at the State University of New York at New Paltz no longer offers plastic shopping bags. Instead, students may purchase a canvas bag for $1.00; the bags can be reused, exchanged or redeemed at any time for the same price. The book store reportedly has eliminated the need for 50,000 plastic bags each year.
Some strategies require state-of-the-art technologies, while others are as simple as the tried-and-true reusable interoffice envelope. Other ideas include posting assignments, memos and announcements via E-mail instead of sending paper memos; instituting double-sided copying as the normal copying mode; and culling mailing lists to remove uninterested recipients.
At the University of Michigan, for instance, a temporary-job listings handbook was replaced with an electronic version, saving 36,750 sheets of paper each year. And at Duke University's School of Business, installing a central bulletin board nearly cut in half the number of weekly memos the school distributed to students each year. As a result, the school reported saving $5,904 per semester on pa-per and $2,250 on labor to deliver memos.
Campus food services are another area ripe for change. Waste prevention options include composting; donating food to charitable programs; switching from single-use plates and cutlery to washable china and utensils; and discouraging students on cafeteria lines from taking more food than they can eat. "It's all you can eat, not all you can throw away," reads a poster in a Columbia University cafeteria.
Rutgers' Brower Cafeteria has found several ways to trim its food and food-related waste. Instead of doling out entrees, the cafeteria al-lows students to serve themselves, reportedly cutting food waste nearly in half. The cafeteria also has moved napkins from the beginning to the end of the take-out line, reducing paper napkin use by 40 to 50 percent.
Colleges and universities also are working with vendors to reduce unnecessary packaging. The University of Wisconsin is piloting a reusable shipping container program, investing more than $500 to buy 50 durable plastic re-usable containers that can last for as many as 100 trips.
The university is using the containers to ship goods bet-ween State Consolidated Stores, a state-operated wholesale distributor of office supplies and equipment, and various university departments. State Consolidated had used about 1,500 corrugated boxes a year for campus deliveries, reusing them a few times before discarding them for recycling. Now the university expects to greatly reduce the need for single-use corrugated cardboard boxes.
Reuse exchanges are another way campuses are maximizing their procurement dollars and minimizing waste. The University of Wisconsin's Solid Waste Alter-natives Project Shop (SWAP) collects unwanted furniture, office supplies, equipment and building materials from the university. Then it "swaps" them at little or no cost with other campus departments and the community. The SWAP Shop stores the items in a warehouse and posts its current inventory twice weekly on a computer bulletin board.
No matter what type of waste reduction program they choose, students, faculty and campus staff are working together to assess waste generation and devise creative alternatives.
For more information on Making Less Garbage on Campus: A Hands-On Guide, contact: Inform, 120 Wall St., New York, N.Y., 10005-4001. (212) 361-2400. Fax: (212) 361-2412.