By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
Turning the University of Missouri-St. Louis from a campus with a heavy set of carbon footprints to a fully self-sustainable campus may seem like an impossible task, especially for those at the UMSL Sustainability Office. Although one office cannot take on such a semi-Sisyphean task by itself, Katy Mike Smaistrla and her colleagues at the sustainability office do not have to do it alone. This summer, “The Current” is highlighting how turning the campus green takes the often overlooked efforts of an entire team of groups and departments across North and South Campus.
As recently as 2015, the school saw UMSL Sustainability heading up the Campus Sustainability Week, which is seven days of eco-friendly events involving other college groups, from a Green Campus Advisory Council Meeting on October 20 to the 13th annual River Des Peres Trash Bash on October 24. The Trash Bash is a yearly event run by UMSL’s Environmental Adventure Organization, in which they clean up the creek that runs by South Campus.
The TerraCycle boxes are another product of the Sustainability Office’s relationship with other campus departments. TerraCycle recycles used electronic items that are dangerous to throw away in a dumpster. This is where the campus tech support, Information Technology Services (ITS), comes in. ITS is a major proponent of using these TerraCycle boxes to get rid of electronics, and has also worked with the UMSL Sustainability Office on a variety of other issues.
“[ITS] is a huge ally because they have a lot of random, weird, tiny things that get brought in to ask, ‘Make this work,’ you know, and when it doesn’t work, what do you do with it?” said Smaistrla. “So they use the TerraCycle electronics program to recycle some of that stuff”
ITS has been encouraging less printing, through the presence of BookEYE scanners in various computer labs around campus and by having lab staff encourage students to use paperless options, such as scanning and saving documents to MyGateway instead of printing them out for their classes.
In the 2010-2011 academic year, between 38 printers, students were cranking out over 10 million printed pages. In the 2014-2015 academic year, the latest full year that can be reported on accurately and comprehensively, the number of printed pages hovered just over five million, spread across 25 printers. While this only reflects computer labs, it shows a nearly 50 percent drop in printing tracked by ITS.
Still, some on campus insist on printing everything out for coursework and in-class assignments. Douglas Williams, manager of Instructional Support Services at ITS, understands that some professors still stick by the old tried and true method of paper copies for everything, and that some professors require students to print out their syllabus for class or risk being docked points. He knows and sympathizes with the fact that not every student can go completely paperless just yet.
Another asset for sustainability comes in the form of the Metrolink Pass Program, which was recently on the cutting board for losing funding but was saved by some quick thinking and clever bookkeeping by D’Andre Braddix, Assistant Dean of Students at Student Affairs. With this program, students enrolled in at least nine credit hours can get a semester Metro pass through the Cashier’s Office.
Metrolink itself has been helpful in convincing commuter students to switch from driving cars to coming to campus via train and bus. Metrolink works with UMSL Sustainability to promote their services during the regular commuter break events and occasionally comes onto campus to show students how their buses work, including how to put a bike on the bike rack of a Metrobus.
“I don’t think people realize that they can ride their bike and put it on the Metro and then ride their bike on campus. There’s that step in between that gets people,” Smaistrla said when asked about ongoing efforts to put more bikes and Metro riders on campus. “It’s not that scary, it’s not that hard—it’s pretty simple.”
When it comes to keeping food production and consumption up to standards set by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), UMSL Sustainability has a large ally, possibly the largest ally on campus: Sodexo, the college’s main dining option for students, staff, and faculty. With the Nosh in the Millennium Student Center being the biggest hub for eating and drinking, what is thrown away or recycled in that area of campus is a major part of how the two departments come together to keep sustainability on track.
Gary Prellwitz is the general manager of Sodexo at UMSL. He has been working with Smaistrla since the Sustainability Office was created and has noticed how involved she is around campus, from attending departmental meetings to running the student-orientated Green Team that meets monthly in the Nosh dining area.
What a lot of students do not see is how much Sodexo donates, whether it is to the local food pantry, City of Life, or the volunteer-based food service for the elderly, Meals On Wheels, both of which are delivered on a regular basis. The food that students do not eat is not wasted, but given back to the community, which cuts down on food waste. Perishable food at catered events on campus still has to be thrown away if it has not been eaten by the end of the time period that the staff has been hired for, due to a federal restriction based on food safety guidelines.
The overarching problem is that the efforts to make UMSL more sustainable—whether it is putting out recycle bins and Freecycle boxes, installing more multi-functional printers with scanning abilities, or offering reusable mugs, containers, and plates for dining in the Nosh— depend on students, faculty, and staff’s willingness to be a part of the process.
A common theme runs through these departments when asked about what they wished students knew about what they are doing to keep UMSL a greener, cleaner place: a need for them to be active participants, involved in recycling more items, switching from plastic bottles to non-plastic drinking bottles and thermoses, or even just scanning a document and saving it electronically rather than scanning and printing it out on paper. Students are by far the largest user base of paper and recyclable materials on campus, whether it is in the ITS computer labs or in the Nosh dining area.
There are multiple groups on campus working towards making UMSL self-sustainable and eco-friendly. Now it is up to the people on campus—the students, staff, and faculty who have made UMSL their academic home away from home—to turn those efforts from invisible efforts to tangible successes, one piece of paper at a time.