When trash wasn’t being sorted properly at 30,000-student Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, dining services decided to get tough by forming a sustainability team called the Green Guard. Mark Petrino, senior associate director of residential dining, spoke to FSD about how the Green Guard is fighting back against waste and other sustainability issues.
We wanted to do something in each of the dining centers that portrayed our sustainability practices. We noticed last year that we were doing a lot of composting and a lot of recycling but some of the recycling materials were getting mixed in with the trash and some of the composting wasn’t as clean as we would like. We have a composting center on campus where we take the material, and [the center’s employees] were pulling out rubber gloves and certain things that shouldn’t be in the compost. So we decided to put together a team that showed a lot of interest in sustainability. We went to each of the dining centers and talked to the people who we felt would be most interested. This past summer we put together this team made up of one person from each dining center. We put together a mission statement and started laying out some basic philosophies for what we would like to see from the team. We more or less wanted to make the team ambassadors for our sustainability program.
We wanted the Green Guard to go back and educate each of the staff members at their respective facilities about what is recyclable, what is compostable and what is just trash. We went ahead and purchased trash cans—brown for compostable, grey for trash and blue for recyclables. We charged the Guard with making signs and educating their staff members. Along with that we got pins for their uniforms so everyone knows they are part of the Green Guard. We wanted them to carry that into the front of the house so the students would recognize them.
Right now the Green Guard is in an education process with the staff. They are almost like bulldogs in the back of the house. They are making sure that anything that needs to be thrown away is thrown away in the proper place. They are also working with our sustainability coordinator to see what we can do to better to enhance the campuswide initiatives.
Education is the biggest thing. When people develop certain habits it’s hard to get them to change. If the staff members that have been here for a number of years are doing something that they aren’t supposed to be doing then the students see that think it’s OK. We thought the best way we could educate everyone was with the Green Guard because they are in the kitchen every day. It’s been very well received.
Our biggest issue is the new student workers coming in. The Green Guard has been educating the back-of-house staff so [the staff] can start educating the students in the back of the house, which allows the Green Guard members to go in the front of the house to talk to other students.
This spring we are also going to be putting in our own herb garden where we will be able to use the dirt produced from our composting. Yesterday’s hamburger is tomorrow’s basil. We also plan to visit and tour Recycle USA, which is where all of Colorado’s recycling ends up. We hope to take what we learn from that visit and bring it back here to possibly figure out a way to not only educate the students on sustainability but also to educate the community on sustainability practices. With certain community events and fairs we want to volunteer to stand guard near the bins and educate the community on sorting trash properly. We’re just trying to reach out further into the community.
I think you need to find people that have a passion for sustainability. If you just charge somebody with [being a part of the Guard] then I don’t think it will be as successful. The people who are passionate about sustainability are a minority, but they are a vocal minority.