Student Eco-Reps Work to Improve Sustainability Culture on Campus
Penn’s Student Eco-Reps program is an internship program for undergraduate students interested in learning about environmental issues and working on sustainability projects that advance the University’s Climate Action Plan 2.0. This year’s Eco-Reps have been working with staff in Penn’s Sustainability Office and help to implement projects aimed at improving the University's environmental footprint in areas such as waste, energy, food, and water, as well as projects focusing on environmental education and literacy. Eco-Reps have been working in small groups to design, pilot, research, and evaluate projects with guidance from Penn’s Sustainability Office. On Friday, April 28, the Eco-Reps presented the outcomes of their projects to Penn leadership and their peers. Below you can find a description of each project and the Student Eco-Reps in charge of them.
Peer Sustainability Workshops
Reps: Soomin Shin (SAS ’19) and Maddie Tilyou (SAS ’19)
Soomin Shin and Maddie Tilyou have spent the year developing "Sustainability Workshops" to educate their peers on how to incorporate sustainability into their day to day lives. Their main focus has been developing and conducting trainings catered towards student groups on campus. These trainings comprise of a presentation to group members as well as a referral to a website that contains resources they can refer to at any point. At Penn, clubs are very instrumental in dictating the social scene and culture of the student body. By normalizing sustainable practices in club practices, eco-reps hope that those behaviors will trickle into all spheres of student life.
Eco-Reps Composting Pilot Project
Reps: Sophia Leporte (SAS ’19) and Tiffany Yung (Wharton ’18)
Although many Penn Dining Facilities already have compost operations, there is a large amount of food waste generated in the College House System. Our project aimed to address and divert this waste as well as help educate students on composting, so they could build important life habits that could carry on beyond their time at Penn. Throughout the past year, we conducted research on, created proposals for, and worked on developing a residential composting pilot program. We contacted key stakeholders including RAs/GAs and House Deans (CHAS), Building Administrators (FRES), and pioneers at other schools (e.g. Harvard Yard Composting Pilot Leaders) in order to understand the plausibility and logistical barriers of launching such a pilot.
Outdoor Recycling Program
Reps: Karen Chi (SAS ’19) and Helen Dai (SAS ’19)
The Eco-Reps Outdoor Recycling Project team has collaborated with Penn’s Urban Parks and Landscape and Design departments over the past academic year. Our aim has been to evaluate strategies for improving the outdoor waste stream on campus. Such strategies focused on enhancing the appearance of the outdoor trash and recycling bins on campus. By conducting initial surveys and waste audits, we gained some insights on how Penn students currently dispose of their waste and how we may be able to make it easier for them to do so. We used this information to design a pilot with the goal of improving the outdoor waste stream on campus. This pilot, which was implemented in two locations on campus, consisted of changing the color of the lids of the outdoor recycling bins to distinguish them from the trash bins, as well as adding informational signage to both types of bins. We evaluated the effectiveness of the pilot by conducting waste audits after these changes were made and comparing the results to those of our initial waste audits. The results showed an increase in real recycling rates and a decrease in contamination rates, representing an overall improvement in the outdoor waste stream. In addition, we conducted a survey to gauge students’ impressions of the changes made in the pilot and received positive feedback to indicate that these changes were useful. Thus, we presented these changes to the Urban Parks and Landscape and Design departments as possible strategies to be implemented throughout campus.
Drying Racks for Laundry Rooms Pilot
Rep: Michael Shu (SAS ’17)
Drying racks were introduced into Harnwell and Rodin to help conserve energy and foster long term sustainability habits. 2 drying racks were placed in each of Harnwell's laundry rooms for public use, and both Harnwell and Rodin have private racks available for rental. The collected data on drying rack usage proved promising with the potential to save $62.72 and 520Wh of energy per month. Thus, not only do drying racks promote environmental sustainability, they are also practical in other ways. They are cost efficient and offer dorm residents the opportunity to protect delicate clothing from the damaging effects of dryers. Hopefully, public drying racks will be available in other residential buildings in the future.
Residential Recycling Bags or Bins Study
Rep: Michael Shu (SAS ’17)
Research was conducted on recycling habits and perceptions within residential dorms to explore the feasibility of replacing residential recycling bags with personal recycling bins. A survey with 167 participants revealed a general desire for increased accessibility towards recycling, with 131 residents claiming their recycling needs were only met to a limited extent and that they would recycle more if it was easier. Approximately half (81) of participants were unaware of the presence of recycling bags and only 58 participants actually used them for recycling. The vast majority of participants (160), however, indicated they would have used a recycling bin if they had been provided one, and 48 residents indicated they would have bought a recycling bin from McClelland during their freshman year if available. Overall, the results of the survey suggest a desire for recycling bins which may hopefully replace recycling bags in the future if a feasible plan is developed.
Ecology Tour Project
Rep: Carol Chen (Wharton ’19)
The ecology tour project aims to educate and increase awareness of sustainable aspects of Penn’s campus. The tour features green spaces, such as Penn Park, Shoemaker Green, and New College House’s green roof to showcase Penn’s wealth of trees and biodiversity. For this project, Eco-Reps work closely with Penn’s Landscape Team and Sustainability Office to design the content, campus environment groups, including Epsilon Eta and Student Sustainability at Penn, to pilot a tour during Green Week, as well as the Admissions Office and Kite & Key to work on marketing the tour to prospective students and ensure the continuity of this project in the future.