Trashless classrooms spread campus-wide

by Marie Veillette

veillettema@mnstate.edu

Students with classes in Lommen and Weld may have noticed something different about the buildings last semester. A student-started initiative to make all classrooms trashless was tested in the two connected buildings.

The initiative aims to reduce recyclable waste from ending up in the landfill. Removing trash bins from every classroom, replacing them with one bin next to the recycling containers in common areas, makes it easier for students to recycle.

Because the convenience factor of having a trash can nearby is replaced with one central trash and recycling hub, students have the chance to rethink throwing away that plastic bottle.

The new set up is thanks to senior biology major Jaden Witt, who had the idea to remove trash cans from classrooms when she was a senior in high school.

“I had originally wanted to do the trashless classrooms because I went to Concordia in high school and saw that they had done it,” she said. 

Witt said she had tried to start the program last year, but didn’t have much success. When a class project provided the chance to really get her idea going, she and her group jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought it was a really good way to make recycling easier and promote recycling,” she said.

It was not until mid semester that she found out her work could earn her the first sustainability leadership award ever given at MSUM, plus a $500 cash prize.

Joe Herbst, sustainability coordinator, said the idea to create the award came up last summer when he bumped into an old friend and MSUM alumnus who had been a major “pioneer” of sustainability while attending the university.

The alumnus expressed his desire to give back to the school and, “we came up with this leadership award that would be given at the end of the semester,” Herbst said.

After soliciting nominations, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Committee chose Witt as the fall semester winner.

“Last semester we had some really good nominees, and it was tough,” he said. “For the committee members, it was tough to try to pick one.”

Herbst said there isn’t any strict criteria nominees need to meet, but taking initiative to promote campus sustainability is one factor they look for in a winner. He said Witt was a prime example of that.

“She really was the driving force behind this project,” he said. “It’s really inspiring for me to see our students really push this stuff.”

Not only is it encouraging for Herbst to see students passionate about a cause, it can also be a factor in allaying concerns of administration and staff when it comes to making changes such as trashless classrooms.

“Our campus, like many large institutions, can be hesitant to change,” he said. “When it’s students who are really driving the change, people in general seem to be more receptive to it.”

While the switch to trashless classrooms may seem uncontroversial, concerns from Building Services about trash being left behind in classrooms was something Witt had to address.

Herbst said communication is key to success in a situation like this, and Witt handled that aspect of the project very well.

“People will accept, maybe even embrace the change if they feel like they’ve been given a chance to comment,” he said.

Because of her communication with all involved, Witt said she has not come against any resistance to move toward trashless classrooms. In fact, she has met the opposite reaction, with GMWs pushing to make the movement campus-wide.

“The GMWs were really willing to work with us,” Witt said.

Herbst added they have a lot of enthusiasm for the project. “They’re the ones that are asking, ‘Hey, when are we going to get this going to the next buildings?’”

The next locations to go trashless will be Hagen and Langseth, followed by the Center for Business and the MacLean/Flora Frick/Bridges complex. The timeline for implementing the changes is expected to be by the end of the semester or early next fall.

Despite only having gone trashless in two buildings on campus, Herbst said they’ve seen “a slight increase” in recycling, which is encouraging news as they continue to expand to other locations.

Though Witt was the sole winner of the award, she credits her group members Kailee Epema and Mackenzie Willits as being “a really big part of the success as well.”

Nominations for the spring Sustainability Leadership Award will be open from April 1 through the 15. Anyone wanting to get involved with the sustainability movement should contact Herbst or stop by his office in Hagen 111.

“I really like it when students take the lead,” Herbst said. “I’m here to empower them to own these projects.”

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