Zero Waste Hero returns next spring with online sustainability course

Hope Unger, News Reporter

A certification course to teach students how to be less wasteful will return to UT next spring after it was paused over a year ago. 

The Zero Waste Hero program will be reinstated as a self-paced course on Canvas that teaches students how to recycle, compost and implement other zero waste techniques. The University stopped the program in April 2020 due to the pandemic not allowing program workers to host in-person workshops, said Zero Waste coordinator Lindsey Hutchison. 

“It can be self-paced,” Hutchison said. “That also allowed us to break it into more digestible pieces. There’s a lot of detail when you talk through recycling correctly and then composting correctly. It’s a lot to throw at a person all at one time.”

Separated into three sections, each level of the program will include three to four half-hour modules about sustainability practices and require one to two action hours, Hutchison said. By completing all three sections, students will become certified as a Zero Waste Hero. 

Hutchison said students will have better access to the program now that it will be on Canvas. Students can complete action hours on their own time by volunteering at gardening events around campus or donating to the community compost pile, Hutchison said.

Mariana Rivas Varela, Zero Waste Hero’s engagement and outreach lead, said she has registered 85 students in preparation for the relaunch. 

“I know as college students, we don’t really want to add even more work when we have so little time but (Zero Waste Hero) is perfect since it’s online and self-paced,” Rivas, a Plan II and environmental sciences sophomore said. “You can just do it over the summer or whenever you actually have time to get into it … and get all the knowledge that you want to out of it. I think it’s perfect.”

To help promote the zero waste lifestyle at UT, Rivas said she designed a toolkit of social media posts and slides with information on how to take the upcoming course for professors to show at the beginning of their class.

Neil Kaufman, University Housing and Dining’s sustainability manager who co-created the Zero Waste program with Hutchison in 2019, said they are planning on implementing a composting program in the dining halls in the future. 

“We want to see a robust level of participation,” Kaufman said. “We want to build community through the lens of zero waste.”