Resource Recovery interns contribute to UT’s zero waste effort

Student interns with Resource Recovery, a branch of Facilities Services that includes Zero Waste and Surplus Property, continued to target reductions in UT Austin’s solid waste stream this past semester through multiple diversion efforts. As demonstrated in their presentations delivered recently on campus, the students collectively put in over 1,300 hours to help the university move closer to its sustainability goals for the campus.

Transforming the campus into a more sustainable environment is no small feat, but the interns believe it’s a valuable experience. Zero Waste Events team member and biology junior Melanie Albrecht shared, “Being a part of the UT Resource Recovery internship program has undoubtedly taught me a lot about what it takes to achieve a zero waste campus as well as the changes that need to be made at UT in order to do so.

“What is perhaps the most important insight that I gained from being able to work with staff and faculty as a part of the Zero Waste Events team is that it will take cohesion from all entities at UT--students and employees alike--to achieve our campus zero waste goals. This is a united effort, and I am very grateful to be a part of it!”

Resource Recovery Zero Waste and Surplus Property initiatives stem from the university’s Sustainability Master Plan (PDF), which calls for a 90% diversion of campus waste away from the landfill. Based on findings from waste stream analysis, Resource Recovery has quantified the impact possible from optimized recycling, robust composting and alternate diversion, including specialized recycling, sustainable purchasing and reuse. Throughout both 2019 semesters, the interns facilitated operational programs designed to target those diversion opportunities.

Highlights of the Resource Recovery interns’ fall accomplishments include:

  • Sorting more than one ton of waste for data collection.
  • Updating bin pairing (co-locating landfill trash and recycle bins), labeling and signage in over 378,000 square feet of building space, clarifying for occupants and reducing unnecessary Custodial Services work requests.
  • Training 18 Compost Champions—students, faculty and staff who participate in compost training and are given the resources to compost in their breakroom.
  • Achieving more than 2,200 zero waste event guest impressions (the number of guests who attended a zero waste event and were exposed to the idea of zero waste, tangible methods to reduce waste and departmental demonstrations of UT’s commitment to zero waste).
  • Attracting over 3,800 social media followers for the Surplus Property Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.

Along with sustainability, these students also learned the importance of stewardship and the positive impacts of their hard work on the campus. Lindsey Hutchison, Resource Recovery’s senior zero waste coordinator, explained that waste data collected by interns is a primary foundation for measuring the campus’s waste diversion status. The data are also key to identifying operational opportunities for improvement, to which intern efforts are correlated.

“Our interns want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It is a highlight of my job to join forces with them in order to transform campus and provide the students with a robust, resume-expanding experience,” said Hutchison.

Chemistry junior Allison Morreale affirmed the value of her internship.  “Working at Resource Recovery, I learned how to effectively communicate sustainability to students and staff with a large variety of backgrounds. It can be difficult to change someone’s mind or the way that they do things, but by introducing concepts in simple, encouraging ways, change can be made. The best way to do this is by educating about the importance of sustainability and showing that each of us has a role to play in creating a more livable world. I loved every aspect of this internship, and I plan to continue finding my role in making positive change.”