What’s in and what’s out: Recycling education at the U

Sustainability Ambassador Sarah Martinez sets an example for all of us on campus by recycling her mixed paper!

Sustainability Ambassador Sarah Martinez sets an example for all of us on campus by recycling her mixed paper!

By Sarah Martinez, Student Sustainability Ambassador

Recycling is easy. Getting students to recycle correctly is not. So, the Sustainability Office created a force of well-informed students and staff to help educate the campus about recycling. We call them the Recycling Ambassadors.

The Sustainability Office saw a need for more recycling education and the most effective way of accomplishing that was to have peers teach those around them. So that’s exactly what we did!

I was the student leader for the Recycling Ambassador program. The program gathered volunteers from all over campus to learn more about recycling through an hour and a half class and a one-hour tour of Rocky Mountain Recycling’s facility. Volunteers then spread across campus during the spring semester to teach others what they learned. I helped write the curriculum for the class, wrote numerous blogs promoting the class, tabled with recycling ambassadors, and tracked everyone’s awesome progress throughout the semester!

If someone asked me whether or not I believed the Recycling Ambassadors was a success, without hesitation, I would reply HECK YES! Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that merely talking to people for a whopping five minutes can make a difference on a campus, but the truth is it really can.

It is our hope that the teachings we provided will have a domino effect. This was only the first cohort of Recycling Ambassadors, and by the end, our participants spoke with approximately 300 students, staff, and faculty from all over campus. Though this number may seem miniscule when noting that our University enrolls more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students (plus faculty and staff), this number means that there are 300 new experts on campus that have the power to teach others.

Student Morgan Newmiller, a member of the first Recycling Ambassador cohort, attested to this in saying, “I have always been passionate about the health of our planet. Being a part of the Recycling Ambassador program this semester taught me that the more people know about recycling, the better recyclers they will be,” she continues. “Whether it was a janitor, a fellow student, or a professor, everyone I interacted with on campus impacted me in someway. I educated, I listened, and I learned.”

Stop! Think through your trash and use the recycling bins whenever possible.

Stop! Think through your trash and use the recycling bins whenever possible.

Reed Pattenaude, a freshman and member of the Recycling Ambassador group, agrees. “Being involved with Recycling Ambassadors has given me a new perspective on the recycling process. I learned a great amount from sustainability employees and the Rocky Mountain Recycling tour, which gave me the confidence to educate my peers on how to recycle on campus,” he says. “My own recycling behavior has improved over this time, which is a great feeling in and of itself.”

Keep checking the Sustainability Office’s website and social media for updates on the next round of the Recycling Ambassadors program beginning in fall 2016. In the meantime, there are a number of ways to begin reducing your waste:

  • Enter a short contest called the University of Utah Cup Project to win awesome prizes like hydroflasks, gift cards, and more for using your thermos or mug at a local coffee joint
  • Keep reusable bags in your car so you never forget them;
  • Donate clothing and household items to nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah!

Newmiller says that participating in the Recycling Ambassador program showed her that change is possible. “It is a heartwarming feeling to know that like-minded people are out there wanting to make this world a better place. Creating change on campus is easy if we are in it together,” she says.

Sarah Martinez is a student sustainability ambassador for the Sustainability Office.

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