GRCC focuses on sustainability with ‘zero waste’ events

December 23, 2019 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids Community College is taking additional steps to reduce waste and improve organizational sustainability by hosting its first “zero waste” events.

“Zero waste” events are activities where all materials used - such as utensils, plates, napkins, cups and food – are completely recyclable, reusable or compostable. GRCC staff make it easier for participants to compost or recycle the materials, with plentiful and clearly marked bins and staff available to remind users how to dispose of materials.

Starting with three employee events in January – staff Opening Day, the Adjunct Faculty Dinner and the all-employee Learning Day – all items used in serving and eating will meet the zero waste criteria.

This particular effort has come from a cross-campus team which includes the college’s Facilities staff, the Campus Dining staff and GRCC’s Sustainability team.  

Mike Vargo, dean of GRCC’s School of Arts and Sciences, said sustainability is one of the college’s strategic goals.

“Zero waste events may be first steps, but they are important steps as we make people aware of things they can do to be better stewards of our environment,” Vargo said. “These efforts will be effective on their own, but we also hope they will help start conversations about sustainability across campus. Long-term change begins with people taking a look at what they are doing and thinking about what could be different.”

In addition to the utensils used, all food waste will be sent to a composting facility where it will break down and be recycled into the energy stream, rather than ending up in a landfill.  Single-use plastics – which are most common at dining events – last for decades.

The three events will bring hundreds of staff and faculty together for meals before attending breakout training and informational sessions. GRCC will be measuring the amount of material it will compost.

Vargo said the goal is to start with the large campus gatherings, but potentially expand to smaller meetings and events throughout the year.

GRCC has long practiced recycling and a variety of sustainable building practices. In addition to the green roof on the Wiser Bottrall Applied Technology Center, several buildings on campus have earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which is a national standard established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The college is participating in the local “battle of the buildings” effort to measure the efficiency of its Tassell M-TEC. The Michigan Battle of the Buildings is an awards and recognition program for energy use reduction open to all commercial, industrial and multi-family buildings. The program is a way to encourage energy-efficient practices in buildings across the state.

The campus also is joining February’s “Recyclemania,” a nationwide competition between two- and four-year colleges to encourage recycling.

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