Serving in the Green Greek team, I am a part of the Waste Management Team. It had never occurred to me to consider not only the amount of trash Greek systems must produce, but more importantly, the amount of waste that is not properly disposed of. Our amount of trash can be managed by properly sorting through our waste, thus decreasing our trash with the elimination of things that can be recycled or composted. During our first meeting, I learned that Seattle provides financial incentive for communities to participate in sorting their waste. Recycling is COMPLETELY FREE and compost bin pick-ups cost around $11 per bin. In comparison, the $300 for a trash bin per week. The main problem within Greek communities lies within contamination of waste, which can also lead to several fines. Not only is that damaging to the environment, it also results in large bills each chapter needs to pay when these funds could be reallocated for something more beneficial. Greek chapters struggle with properly sorting their waste, which is truly a trivial matter with substantial consequences. Not only would there be less trash being thrown away and more matter being reused in some way – whether recycled or composted – it would also save money by spreading out the waste properly to compost and recycling bins, away from trash. Utility bills further emphasized the effect of contaminated bins, pointing to potential hundreds of dollars, per house, per month being virtually wasted.
As a goal for my personal chapter, Pi Beta Phi, I was shocked during our waste audit of how many our own containers were contaminated. As a preliminary step, I set up a chapter presentation during which I educated members and let them know of what I intended to do to get us closer to a resolution. Everyone can properly dispose of their trash, to promote that, I reorganized bins throughout my house so that every trash been was accompanied by a compost or recycling bin depending on the room. In the study basement, for instance, I implemented more recycling bins because people were more likely to be throwing away papers there. Bathrooms had a trash and a compost for paper towels. The kitchen, where I noticed the most waste, I set up all threebins next to each other with up signage above each to remind members what waste was appropriate for each bin. Improving waste contamination was not enough. I wanted to decrease the trash we had, overall. I spoke with our house mom, consulted our budget and organized with our delivery to switch to eco-utensils. Our previous utensils were plastic that was neither recyclable or compostable. Seeing this as excessive waste, our house has now transitioned to utensils that are compostable, lessening our trash that pollutes the world.
For my UW senior capstone, I collaborated with Seattle Public Utilities and the Community-Based Social Marketing approach to promote composting practices within the UW Greek Community.Seattle is currently focusing on citywide composting and has enacted a composting ordinance that prohibits compostable food and paper from being disposed of in waste bins. Fines are being issued to property owners who have 10% or more of food waste in garbage containers as a way to provide financial incentive. However, this law does not directly impact tenants in multifamily housing because they don’t have personal accountability for what goes into the communal waste bins. The University of Washington Greek housing is a type of multifamily student housing that currently faces similar issues with creating collective participation to compost. Without financial incentive, both settings are facing various psychological barriers to transitioning to composting.
I worked with Green Greek Representative Program Director Tali Haller to connect with different Greek chapters to gather information on composting barriers through surveys, interviews, and quantitative measurements. After investigating different psychological barriers to composting, I suggested sustainable interventions for each house in my report titled “The Psychological Barriers to Compost in UW Greek Housing.”My research shows that barriers to composting stem from a lack of knowledge, an absence of motivation, unsupportive attitudes, or general inconvenience.
I coordinated with multiple Greek Chapters, including Sigma Kappa, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Psi Upsilon. Each house I coordinated with had members that were incredibly passionate and dedicated to making their home more sustainable. Their compost bins were all easily accessible with prompts to help remind and educate house members. However, their Green Greek Representative experienced a lot of push back. While 90% of the Greek members I interviewed generally knew what went into compost bins, only 37% were aware of the Seattle composting ordinance or the fines that were being issued to their house. Among these 4 barrier types, 67% of members showed a high barrier in regards to motivation and attitude toward composting.
Together, Tali and I have been working to overcome the “attitude” and “motivation” barriers by establishing social norms and creating a positive environment around composting. We’re also looking into ways to display the high-level of local community support for composting practices to encourage action!
Mercedes Stroeve recently received her Bachelors of Arts in Community, Environment, and Planning (CEP) with a minor in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington. Her education focus was around mitigating climate change and creating collective action to improve circumstances. She has worked previously with UW Transportation Services where she promoted sustainable commute options and helped reduce UW commuter’s emissions. Currently she is working with the Mass Transit Now campaign to help pass the Sound Transit 3 initiative to help expand our existing system of light rail, commuter rail, and bus services in the Puget Sound Region.