As classes are offered remotely this term, campus waste bins and parking lots remain overwhelmingly empty and lights inside abandoned classrooms are turned off. TKS spoke to Knox’s Director of Sustainability Deborah Steinberg on how the quarantine conditions have affected the school’s sustainability efforts.
“Some of the practices that we have, the reuse practices that we’ve established, we’re having to pause on and we’re having to go to a disposable option,” Steinberg said during a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s going to impact our waste numbers, because we still have significantly fewer people on campus.”
According to a campus-wide email from Teresa Amott at the start of April, “there are only 180 students on campus, and faculty and staff are working remotely.” Students on campus can no longer dine in the Hard Knox Cafe and cannot use their reusable clamshells to get takeout cafeteria food. Students must use disposable containers in order to prevent risks of transmission.
Despite this, Steinberg said the campus is fortunate to already have a compost system in place. Instead of the clam shells, students and staff will use the disposable, compostable containers typically found in the Gizmo. As the compost vendor is still working with Knox, dining waste will be able to be diverted from the landfill.
Steinberg said the campus itself is using less energy, though that energy use is being displaced elsewhere in people’s homes. Likewise, the waste the campus would otherwise be producing this term has only shifted where it is being produced.
“The one thing we know is not happening is people are not driving to campus, who normally drive to campus. So that use is going down in terms of carbon,” Steinberg said.
While students and faculty remain indoors, class and meetings are pushed online, Steinberg said the quarantine may serve as an opportunity for people to evaluate their practices and determine whether they return to the same behavior after the mandates are lifted.
“I had some students working with me last term, and the project they were really interested in was how can we reduce paper usage in classwork. I think, by accident, some courses are having to look at ways to do that already so it will be interesting to reflect afterwards and see what was successful and what wasn’t in terms of paper reduction,” Steinberg said.
Most of the Office of Sustainability’s work operates face-to-face, Steinberg said. Steinberg said she is now focusing on how to push sustainability programs online and collect data for the college’s approaching sustainability report. Otherwise, the office is working with students to continue celebrating and serving the environment amid remote operations.
“April is Earth Month and Students for Sustainability along with the Office for Sustainability had events and activities leading up to the Earth day festival. So with the move to online, we’re looking at ways to connect and celebrate Earth Day virtually this year,” Steinberg said. “And it is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day so it is something we are really looking forward to really celebrating together—so looking at ways to still connect and encourage environmental stewardship is something we’re hoping to share information about soon.”