Zero waste building program to help UT achieve sustainability goals

Savana Dunning

The Student Services Building is UT’s first Zero Waste Workplace, a new program working to reach UT’s sustainability goals.  

Launched by UT Resource Recovery in May, the program aims to shift building infrastructures on campus toward more sustainable waste diversion practices, such as composting used restroom paper towels and posting signage to promote proper recycling.

Robert Moddrell, UT Resource Recovery manager, said the SSB was chosen as the first Zero Waste Workplace due to its staff’s dedication to sustainability over the years. 

“Any sustainability program is going to rely on the participation of individuals, because we each impact the waste stream,” Moddrell said. “SSB had been doing a lot of work toward sustainability programs already … They were a natural choice for us to go to because of the activity of the occupants of the building.”

Resource Recovery and the sustainability department have been working toward zero waste on campus since 2012, with hopes of reaching 90 percent waste diversion by 2020. A 2017 audit by students working with Resource Recovery estimated campus waste diversion was at around 38 percent. 

UT Sustainability Director Jim Walker said although UT might not reach its goal by 2020, programs like Zero Waste Workplace have been launched to help reach the target.

“You set goals and you start to figure out what you need to get to the goal, and sometimes you need to push it out a little bit, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Walker said. “You have to set a big goal that’s ambitious, that you’re going to stretch for … It’s just a challenge because of how big campus is, but I’m not worried about it.”

Moddrell said more than half of the waste produced by UT is compostable or recyclable. To help separate landfill trash from compostable and recyclable waste, part of the program is dedicated to making sure people understand the difference between the three.  

The SSB and T.S. Painter Hall are the only two buildings to join the program so far, and the SSB is the only building to have fully completed the program. Moddrell said Resource Recovery is planning to include 12 more buildings in the future. He said a building they want to involve soon is the McCombs Business School because it shares a waste removal system with neighboring buildings.

The SSB’s position as both the headquarters for environmental organizations such as the Campus Environmental Center and the home of University Health Services made it a prime location for the program. Moddrell said UHS had already been composting material in the physical examination rooms years before the program was launched.

Kathy Mosteller, UHS associate director for Nursing and Clinical Operations, said even though UHS had already been practicing sustainable waste removal practices, Zero Waste Workplace has brought practicality and consistency to their recycling and composting habits.

“It’s helped support the work we were already doing,” Mosteller said. “It’s made it more formalized and provided some resources that were not readily available to us … They’re very passionate but they’re also knowledgeable and practical.”