UT recently announced that it hopes to reduce half its landfill waste by 2030, a step that is just one goal on the way to ultimately becoming a zero waste institution. Once UT is available to divert 90% of its waste from landfills, it will be considered a zero waste institution.

There are four pillars that are helping UT become zero waste, which are expanding infrastructure for diversion strategies through compost and recycling; enhancing communication and training; emphasizing reuse, repair and redistribution and increasing campus community support. There is a 10 year plan that has been implemented to reach these pillars.

A large initiative is trying to eliminate single-use plastic around campus. As of Feb. 3, Southern Kitchen is implementing a reusable to-go container program. This is in hopes to eliminate plastic bags, straws, lids, utensils and other single-use plastic items. There are also plans to increase the amount of reusable water bottle fountains across campus.

Another program that has already kicked off is the Mug Project, which gives an incentive to use a reusable beverage container around campus.

UT Office of Sustainability manager Jay Price explained this incentive

“If you take your reusable beverage container to any POD market or dining location on campus, except Chick-Fil-A, you get a discount of $0.70 off fountain drinks and drip coffees or 15% off specialty drinks,” Price said.

Price explained the ways that he helps students to conceptualize the amount of waste that they truly produce.

“When I give guest lectures or teach classes, I get students to carry their waste for a week. If you recycle, compost or flush it, you don’t have to carry it, but if you can’t do any of those things appropriately (no cheating), then you have to carry it with you. ... It’s an amazing way to learn first-hand about choices you are making and how much waste they generate. Or, you could write down a daily log of the things you throw away and recycle or compost,” Price said.

Additionally, Price elaborated on some of the steps that UT needs to take to achieve its zero waste goal.

“Make it a priority in purchasing, dining, concessions and operations. Eliminating single-use plastics is a big step in the right direction, and we’re hoping to make that happen as soon as possible. Make it the culture here where waste is attacked systematically to minimize it. It needs to be the norm to reduce and reuse items, and it should be encouraged in every way possible,” Price said.

Annalisa Tarizzo, the program development strategist at the Office of Sustainability, explained that her office is excited about the change and discussed the importance of the move toward zero waste.

“UT has an obligation as the state's flagship land-grant university to be responsible stewards of our natural resources, and the waste that we produce and what we do with it plays a huge part in that. We hope that this commitment will be the first step in reducing the total amount of waste that the university produces, as well as disposing of remaining waste in the most responsible manner possible,” Tarizzo said.

Additionally, students have the opportunity to make their UT-affiliated events zero waste by requesting online that UT help them do so. A zero waste event makes many adjustments, such as providing finger foods to reduce plastic utensils as well as recycling the waste an event does produce.

Students can make many small changes to improve their impact on UT’s waste. There is a public recycling drop-off warehouse available to students at 2121 Stephenson Drive. Additionally, simply placing your waste in the correct designated trash or recycling bin can make a big difference.

The Office of Sustainability requests that students use items such as reusable water bottles, bulk packaging and reusable or compostable plates in replacement of single-use plastic items. The office also suggests staying away from items like aluminum foil, disposable straws and paper cups with plastic lining, because they cannot be recycled.

UT is already making significant sustainability strides. In 2018, the university composted more than 1,100 tons of food and landscaping waste.

Additionally, Price recommends getting a job or internship with the Office of Sustainability in order to impact sustainability efforts even more. For more information, please contact the Office of Sustainability at sustainability@utk.edu or (865) 974-3480.

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