When a Western Michigan University student gets his fries or breaded chicken breasts from Bigelow/Hoekje Dining hall, he doesn’t immediately realize that the oil used to cook his lunch is used for fuel in a vegetable mower.
The vegetable mower, which cost $4,500 to convert, uses 88 gallons of diesel less per year than a normal diesel mower. And, for better or worse depending on your preference, it’s exhaust doesn’t smell like fried food.
Along with recycling on WMU’s campus, the mower is one example of sustainable efforts at WMU. With sustainability now part of the way things are done on campus, the next major habit WMU is looking to adopt wholesale is waste reduction.
The idea behind waste reduction is not to have recycling in the first place, because garbage isn’t produced. That means students would learn to pack a reusable mug in their backpacks for when they purchase coffee from the Sprau Café before class. It means packing their lunches in reusable containers instead of tossing plastic wrapping away. It means bringing a bag to late-night take out to carry food in. Every action prompts another: Less garbage is fewer trips to the landfill by waste management trucks that burn gas to get there. Fewer paper coffee cups to begin with are less manufactured energy and few trips to campus by delivery trucks.
The biggest action, however, starts with people: “ We can’t change the world without changing people’s habits,” said Carolyn Noack, manager of solid waste reduction at WMU. “Everyone must be involved. Behavior change is the most difficult thing to do.”
Kate Binder, a graduate assistant at the Office for Sustainability, says that everyone would have to use bags for late-night take out to make an impact.
To change a community’s habits, Binder says there needs to be incentives, which some might argue as punishments. Beside the eco-mug and reusable bag, Noack has other ways students can live a waste free lifestyle, such as printing on both sides of a piece of paper, taking the bus since it’s free for students, and serving up only what one can eat at the dining hall.
Since the spring of 2012, students have sorted their own recyclables. This curb-sort recycling method saves more money than recyclables being sorted by recycling facility staff, according to a study done by 4R Environmental Consultants, a waste management regulations agency.
Even though the recycling program at WMU has been in effect for a year and a half, students still have to think about recycling correctly because old habits die hard.
For example, even though the limit of pages for printing in the computer labs doubled last year, the same percentage of students, about 5 percent, still went over the new limit to the same extent as they did the old limit – even though there was twice the paper to use.
“When the limit increased to 500 pages, it was my belief that the number would of decreased, but it has remained consistent,” said John Racine, computer labs manager.
Students use more paper in the labs because it is the more convenient option. Whether 250 or 500 pages, students use what is available.
Bethany Marschke, a sophomore at WMU, feels she has good reason to print pages — it helps her learning. “For some of my classes, the lectures and assignments are online but I still like to print them off and take notes.”