The Collegian
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

COVID-19 protocols create waste, new sustainability efforts implemented

<p>The entrance to the Office for Sustainability in Puryear Hall. The Office plans for the University to be carbon neutral by 2050, according to their <a href="" target="_blank">website</a>.</p>

The entrance to the Office for Sustainability in Puryear Hall. The Office plans for the University to be carbon neutral by 2050, according to their website.

From using a reusable bag to getting involved in environmental organizations, the Office for Sustainability has created a variety of new ways for students to engage in sustainability efforts on campus.  

Sophomore Megan Salters had gotten into the habit of saying, “No bag today, please, thank you,” every time she arrives at the end of Heilman Dining Center's foodservice line. Salters interned with an environmental organization over the summer and consequently quickly noticed the plastic bags from the dining hall piling up in trash cans around campus at the beginning of the semester. 

“The trash cans were just full and full of bags after every single use,” Salters said. “If you're having D-hall two or three times a day, then that’s a lot [of waste].” 

Although she had convinced her friends to start saying no to the plastic bags, Salters wanted to make a larger impact on students’ sustainability efforts, she said. Salters decided to email Rob Andrejewski, director of sustainability, to see if there were any plans to give students reusable bags to carry their meals in. 

In conjunction with Dining Services, the Office for Sustainability was able to turn Salter's idea into a reality. 

“We’ve been listening to students and working on solutions [to sustainability problems created by COVID-19] alongside Dining Services, which is an awesome partner," Andrejewski said. "First, there was an initiative to do reusable bags, and that was spearheaded by Dining Services, and our office just supported the communication and distribution on that."

In one week alone, 13,000 plastic bags are saved when blue bags are used, said Executive Director of Dining Services Terry Baker. The blue reusable bags are being considered a success by both the Office for Sustainability and Dining Services, Baker said.

“Each student who eats in the dining hall gets one free recyclable bag,” Baker said. “If you do not bring the blue bag, you can bring your own bag, not get a bag at all, pay for a recyclable cloth bag or pay for a plastic bag. It is exciting to watch on campus and see how few plastic bags are being used.”

In addition to the blue bags, Dining Services has started to promote reusable plastic to-go boxes to students as an alternative to the standard single-use boxes, Baker said. To-go boxes cost $5 and only need to be bought once with dining dollars before students can reuse them using swipes, according to the Office for Sustainability's Instagram, @beagreenspider.

UR has been producing more waste because of necessary measures it is taking to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as to-go materials, Andrejewski said. Dining Services and the Office for Sustainability have also been working to reduce waste production by purchasing environmentally friendly products, Andrejewski said. 

The sustainability office, alongside Dining Services and Facilities, is also working to develop new ways to redirect waste this semester, Andrejewski said. 

One new initiative is the introduction of composting on campus, Kelsey Fastabend, sustainability program coordinator, said.

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For the first three weeks of November, UR is doing a composting trial run, according to the Office for Sustainability's Instagram. The trial run will take place only at the University Forum tent, where sustainability office interns will help students figure out what can be composted, according to the account.

Another project that the Office for Sustainability has been working on is a 120-acre solar array in Spotsylvania, Virginia, which will account for all of UR's electricity, Andrejewski said. The solar array will go online by the end of 2020 and will be an addition to the small solar array UR installed in 2016 on the top of the Weinstein Center for Recreation.

By adding the 120-acre solar array, all emissions related to the electricity that UR purchases will be virtually eliminated, Andrejewski said. This will bring UR closer to its carbon neutrality goal of emitting no greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Andrejewski said. 

Students can also take advantage of the Gambles Mill Eco-Corridor, which was completed in fall 2019, according to UR's sustainability website. The Eco-Corridor project involved creating a multi-use recreational trail, removing invasive plants, managing stormwater and restoring Little Westham Creek, according to the website. 

UR has been working since 2018 to create the Eco-Corridor, restoring Little Westham Creek and refurbish a trail going from River Road to UR Drive, Andrejewski said. 

“For the past few years we’ve been restoring this place so that the floodplain of the stream is able to take nitrogen and phosphorus from the water during rain events so that it’s better for the James River,” Andrejewski said. "The trail itself is great for wellbeing, for nature connection and there’s an outdoor classroom.”

A minor in sustainability is currently in the proposal phase and will hopefully launch next fall, Andrejewski said. Requirements for the minor include an introductory course, a capstone and courses about relationships between the environment, society and economy, Andrejewski said. In their final capstone, students will be able to discuss how each course that they choose to take related to sustainability, Andrejewski said.

Students who are interested in sustainability-related classes but do not want to minor can look at UR’s sustainability website to see classes that relate to sustainability offered by a variety of departments and programs. 

Students can also get involved in sustainability efforts by joining the University of Richmond Sustainability Advocates, a program in which students can meet others who are passionate about sustainability, Andrejewski said. To become a member of URSA, students must take an introductory course on sustainability, complete a quiz about the five subsections of the Be a Green Spider website and get Green Room Certified, a certification that a student has sustainable living habits in their room or apartment, Andrejewski said. 

Other sustainability-related organizations that students can join are GreenUR and the Outdoors Club, Andrejewski said. GreenUR is an advocacy group that focuses on bring environmental awareness to students, according to their Presence page. The Outdoors Club is an organization created for students who are passionate about being outdoors and host outdoor-related events on campus as well as go on trips to places such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to their Presence page

But students who are not part of any of these organizations can still engage in sustainability. For instance, students can take part in the eco-challenge that will be happening in November. The eco-challenge is a contest during which students adopt sustainable behaviors throughout a week, Andrejewski said. 

A large part of why these sustainability efforts and organizations have been so successful is because of Dining Services, Facilities, and passionate students, Andrejewski said.

“It’s just really exciting to work at a place and to be at a school where students really care and make a difference,” Andrejewski said.

Contact features writer Lauren Oligino at

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