May 1, 2008

University Prepares for a Greener Slope Day

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Each year, thousands of students stumble onto Libe Slope to listen to performers and bask in Slope Day’s glory. This year, students and the University alike are working to make the Big Red event a little greener.
For example, only recyclable and compostable materials will be provided on the Slope.
In fact, everything sold by Cornell Dining will be compostable, according to Scott Davis, Cornell Dining. The eco-friendly materials will include compostable paper napkins, paper plates, potato-starch cutlery and sandwich wrappers. The food will also be composted.
“It’s not much more difficult,” Davis said, “and it’s a worthwhile effort.”
However, he cautioned, the effort towards sustainability “doesn’t simply end with the fact that Cornell Dining uses biodegradable [products]. It has to extend to users of the products and ensuring that they are disposing of them in proper receptacles.”
To facilitate this process, there will be approximately 20 yellow bins on the slope for collecting compostable materials, according to Benjamin Scott-Killiam ’09, sustainability coordinator for Cornell Dining. The compost will be used by Cornell Farm Services for the University’s grounds and farms.
If any plastic contaminates the compost, however, Cornell Farm Services will reject the entire bag of compost and it must be redirected to trash.
Students “can really help us [Cornell Dining] reduce waste simply by putting waste in the correct bin,” Scott-Killiam said.
The University is making efforts to make those bins easier to access.
“Everything will be clearly labeled,” he said, with lots of clearly marked signs designating the receptacles as “trash,” “recycling,” and “composting.” The bins will also be placed closer to one another so that they are easier to find.
Catherine Holmes, co-chair of the Slope Day Logistics Committee and associate dean of students for Student Activities, said, “the sustainability push this year adds some expense and it is one more component [for logistics], but it’s a great thing.”
According to Holmes, the sustainability initiative for Slope Day was started by students. In early October, several students met with Cornell Dining and by January, their efforts had started to move forward.
“Students on the Slope Day Programming Board started talking right away, and everyone’s been really positive,” she said, stressing their efforts to clean up the Slope both during and after the day’s festivities. “The volunteers are amazing.”
This year, she explained, the volunteers will also help direct attendees’ waste to the proper receptacles, help sort and separate items and pick up recyclable bottles left on the Slope.
Holmes said that water bottles “remain problematic” because they often end up in the wrong receptacles, resulting in a huge part of the accumulated waste.
Each year, over 30,000 bottles of water are handed out on Slope Day, and many of these bottles end up clogging landfills instead of being recycled, according to the Cornell Campus Life purchasing department.
“Lots of students were hoping to eliminate water bottles,” she said, “but we’re sticking with them this year.”
One option was to have a water truck from which attendees could refill water bottles and compostable cups. However, this solution is problematic.
“Our top priority needs to be keeping students hydrated to keep them safe and healthy, and the best way to do that is to hand out as many water bottles as we can throughout the day.” Julie Glanville, Campus Life marketing manager, stated in an e-mail. “Students are more likely to drink from a water bottle that’s put into their hands, rather than having to go out of their way to fill up a re-usable and compostable cup at a water truck.”
Christina Copeland ’11, member of the Sustainability Hub, has been working to reduce the use of bottled water on campus, particularly on Slope Day because plastic bottles can only be used once. Citing a National Geographic article, she explained that it can take between 400 to 1000 years for plastic bottles to decompose in a landfill.
“Plastic bottles are unnecessary,” she said. “We have potable drinking water coming out of faucets.”
She proposed various alternative options to bottled water, such as having central water coolers to refill cups, distributing out reusable containers or even having volunteers wearing backpacks with water to refill attendees’ containers.
“You have to think outside the box,” she said.
Copeland is working with the Student Assembly Environmental Committee to support a resolution for reducing the use of bottled water on campus and hopes to work towards reductions in the use of bottled water during Slope Day in the future.
While the efforts toward sustainability are a step in the right direction, Scott-Killiam said it is the first of a long process.
He said, “I want to keep trying to make Slope Day more sustainable in the future … It’s a high priority for dining and for the Slope Day Committee.”