As a major university with more than 27,000 students and another 5,000 faculty and staff, East Carolina requires considerable resources just to keep the doors open. That is why it is so important that the university is actively working to eliminate wasteful practices and improve efficiency wherever possible.
In an age when environmental concerns are gaining more public support and pennies are counted like never before, it makes sense for the university to conserve wherever it can. But accepting the challenge of creating a more sustainable campus goes beyond mere budgetary concerns or public relations.
The United Nations defines sustainability as “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” As an institution that prides itself on preparing leaders, it is imperative that ECU takes the initiative to ensure that this university is able to prepare the next generation.
In recent years, ECU has committed to conservation and green policies. Specifically, the university has excelled in five primary areas—recycling, transportation, water conservation, environmentally friendly building, and environmental advocacy. And while these are not the only areas in which the university is working to improve efficiency, they offer insight into ECU’s commitment to sustainability.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
It is hard to remember a time when recycling wasn’t at the forefront of environmental policy. At ECU, recycling is perhaps the most visible green initiative in place today, with literally thousands of recycling bins across campus collecting everything from plastic bottles to printer ink cartridges. Last year, the university recycled 30 percent of its waste, netting 1.8 million pounds of material that would have otherwise gone into an area landfill. This year, the goal is for even more.
ECU's picturesque Main Campus is a draw for many students. Conservation and sustainability initiatives will help keep it that way.
“The sky is the limit when it comes to how much we could recycle. Our university could easily recycle over 50 percent of our waste with very little additional effort,” said Terry Little, ECU recycling coordinator. “We just need more people to participate.”
Virtually anything recyclable is recycled on campus. Paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, hardback books, scrap wood, and scrap metals are all collected by Facilities Services’ recycling staff and sent to a material recovery facility where they are recycled. Other departments on campus contribute as well, making recycling a campus-wide effort. For example, Dining Services recycles cooking grease, the garage collects automotive fluids, Environmental Health and Safety recycles batteries, Facilities Services Grounds Department turns yard waste into mulch for campus landscaping, and Central Stores collects ink cartridges and surplus electronics.
Apart from the environmental benefits to recycling, the practice is also the most cost-effective means of solid waste management for an institution the size of ECU. Instead of paying $44 per ton to dispose of material in a landfill, ECU earns approximately $20,000 from the sale of recyclables each year.
Little expects ample opportunities for more revenue in the future as the recycling program continues to grow. The university is helping in that regard by increasing the number of collection sites on campus and by partnering with campus events such as RecycleMania®, Earth Day, Move-In weekend, GreenFest, and Give-N-Go.
“We have experienced steady growth over the past few years,” he said. “Fortunately, we have seen increased participation on a number of levels. Faculty, staff, and students have all come forward to volunteer in helping us expand.”
Apart from recycling, reusing items, and reducing the items one consumes are also important components to a successful campaign to reduce waste. Typically the end of the school year is a time when the university and city of Greenville sees a spike in trash collection. Give-N-Go encourages students to donate unwanted items to local charities instead of throwing them away. The program successfully diverts thousands of pounds of packaged food, clothing, and household goods from ending up in the landfill each year.
ECU is also working to educate the community, especially young people, on the value of recycling. Through a partnership with the city of Greenville, ECVC, and Pitt County, ECU is assisting with a program called Feed the Bin, which is intended to promote recycling to every fifth grader in the Pitt County School System.
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