Sustainability suggestions

The strain on UNO to fix things that are actually broken is currently formidable, and if universities are anything like a business, UNO might understandably avoid improvements on its environmental impact until it finds itself in a better financial situation.That being said, recent months have shown that the administration is attempting to make some efforts: the bursar’s office moved toward paperless refunds, and the SGA has just finished a tree-planting project in the quad. I would suggest a few more.

Some may remember the Dec. 2016 email UNO President John Nicklow sent to all faculty and students, introducing people to a new Environmental Sustainability Circle.

“We have significant opportunity to strengthen our focus on environmental sustainability and be better stewards of our environment,” he stated in the email. He supports “…developing and implementing practices that enhance environmental sustainability within and throughout our campus operations.”

So there is clearly some interest in improving UNO’s treatment of the environment. Because UNO has been strapped for money in some regards, I attempt to account for this, giving only inexpensive or money-saving ideas.

At night, lights line the quad and paths, and others shine from the many buildings on campus. Most glaring of UNO’s wasteful habits, and simultaneously the easiest habit to curtail, is that one of leaving the lights on. Many classrooms, hallways, lobbies, entryways and offices remain lit all day and throughout the night, using up energy and thus wasting money.

One month of constant use for the average fluorescent light bulb tube costs $1.47, and it lasts for about 10,000 hours. But when a third of those hours is spent on lighting empty hallways, that time slips by fast, and bulbs need to be replaced every year or sooner. If just five buildings on campus leave on 20 fluorescent bulbs – and each lamp usually has two bulbs – for an entire year, that can total to more than $2,000 of waste per year.

When I pass the grand old Earl K. Long Library, I reflect on how much of the light is spilling across the quad, and see that all four floors remain fully lit long after closing time.

Meanwhile, as many as hundreds of students and faculty collect a to-go box from the cafeteria to enjoy a hot meal every day. Sometimes, eating outside of the Galley is more convenient or even necessary. But taking a to-go box from the Galley automatically means that the Styrofoam food box must eventually be tossed into a garbage can. Most recycling plants, including every plant in Louisiana, do not recycle Styrofoam, so there is no sustainable way to use this plastic. It never breaks down.

Campus dining services should seriously consider offering a different to-go container option. Even if it is simply a different kind of plastic, it will at least be recyclable. For reference, local recycling centers will recycle all other plastics numbered 1 through 7.

My favorite choice would be to offer reusable to-go containers to those who frequent the Galley, particularly those who have meal plans. They could be sold for $5 or $10 a box and hold the same amount of food as usual. In this way, the Galley could even make a profit while being sustainable.

Additionally, it would be nice to see on-campus food services refuse to use plastic straws and coffee stirrers, because they are rarely recycled, disposed of after only one use, and unnecessary to drinking.

Several buildings across the campus have roofs which, unobstructed by tree branches, face the sun year round, absorbing its heat and straining their air conditioning systems. I posit that the addition of solar panels, although initially costly, would prove to save the campus a great deal of money. Buildings could offset their electricity bills, and the extra shade from solar panels could give the air conditioners a break.

Several buildings have flat roofs and a full view of the sky year-round: the Performing Arts Center, the library, the Engineering Building, the TRAC center, Milneburg Hall, the Mathematics Building, and the Liberal Arts Building.

In public bathrooms of many other states, it is customary to offer a second garbage can solely for the collection of paper towels. These towels, used just once and then thrown away, can be composted. A dedicated compost pile on campus will allow them to biodegrade, giving back to the environment and reducing the use of plastic garbage bags. Something about surrounding a mass of biodegradable waste with a non-biodegradable plastic bag seems wasteful to me.

I could say the same for food scraps. If collected by the cafeteria, they could also be disposed of in a compost pile. This is far more beneficial to the environment than disposing of food waste in plastic bags and leaving it in a landfill under tons of other garbage, without sun or air to help it biodegrade.

Finally, I applaud the library, Service Coalition and individual faculty members for their efforts to increase recycling across campus. I see that their bins are collected by students and volunteers and wish that President Nicklow would aid these efforts by supplying even more recycling bins and encouraging facility services to empty them regularly. On-campus residents are likely to create the most on-campus garbage, so I think that Pontchartrain Hall and Privateer Place should step up to provide recycling options for their communities. The current efforts to recycle across campus are disjointed; it would be more efficient for the campus to officially recycle as a whole.

These is just a list of wishes, to be granted or not. I don’t expect immediate change, but I expect us all to think and work together to improve. We can work slowly, but we mustn’t ever stop. The environment, and therefore our own livelihood, is counting on us.