The goal of our project was to conduct research about UMD’s waste management and encourage UMD students, staff, and faculty to use proper waste management procedures. By researching both the structural, or administrative, aspects of waste management and the campus community participation, we were able to grasp an idea of how effective our waste management is at UMD. By conducting interviews with Mindy Granley, UMD Sustainability Coordinator; Doug Greenwood, Principle Ground and Buildings Supervisor; and A.J. Matthews, Environmental Program Coordinator, we were able to gain a better understanding of the functional aspects of waste management. We also talked to a variety of students and staff to gauge an idea of how waste management on campus suits its population. We then took both the background research and applied anthropology that we did and created a documentary film that can serve as an educational tool.
As anthropology students at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, there are certain issues we come across on a regular basis: social justice and equality, global economic stability, and environmental protection. These three issues that have weaved their way through so much of our college education constitute the three pillars of the larger issue of sustainability. When we began this project, we would have never guessed that such an encompassing topic would lead us to study trash. The more we looked into waste management at UMD, however, the more we realized its significance within the larger framework of sustainability.
The goal of our project was to research waste management at UMD in order to educate and encourage UMD students, staff, and faculty about proper waste management and how to utilize the available framework in the most sustainable manner. As we began conducting our research, we realized that more than anything, our project would become a small piece of the paradigm-shift-puzzle. We realized that although it is true that UMD should better their waste management system, the bulk of the problem lies within the campus community’s existing paradigm of disposable lifestyles. It is our belief that if the campus community is shown this video, the result would be an overall greater appreciation of waste management and possibly a reduction in the trash generated at UMD and its resulting internment in the Superior Landfill.
The University of Minnesota Duluth’s waste management program is not perfect in its sustainability. The problems associated with our current waste management system include a lack of student, staff and faculty knowledge about basic ideas of sustainability, how the university waste management system functions, where UMD’s refuse goes once it leaves campus, how the solid waste gets to its final destination, and how each individual’s solid waste affects the environment for future generations; inadequate signage on recycling bins, including notifying students, staff, and faculty about what can be recycled in which bins, and the locations of bins relative to classrooms and offices.
We began our research wanting to create a film to showcase how the waste management system works at UMD: what was being thrown away by students, staff, and faculty; where the solid waste generated at campus goes once it leaves campus; how the post-UMD disposal system works; student and staff knowledge and opinion on sustainability, recycling, and waste disposal; and our recommendations for making UMD’s waste management system more sustainable. We interviewed university staff involved in solid waste management at UMD, including Doug Greenwood, Facilities Management Building Supervisor and Mindy Granley, UMD’s Sustainability Coordinator to determine how UMD’s waste management system functions, the amount of solid waste disposed at UMD in previous years, both trash and recycling, and gain information about current efforts to make the waste management system at UMD more sustainable.
The group visited the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District Solid Waste Transfer Station, where we met with A.J. Matthews, who gave us a tour of the facility and answered questions concerning Duluth’s solid waste disposal system. We also toured the Superior Landfill in Superior, Wisconsin, where all of Duluth’s trash is interred; Superior Landfill Foreman Mike Nepper explained how the landfill operates. On camera interviews were conducted with a small random sample of students and staff at UMD. The students and staff were asked about their knowledge of sustainability, if they recycled, what they would do with a plastic bottle if no plastic recycling bin was nearby, if they used reusable beverage containers, and their opinion on what UMD’s waste management practices would look like in a perfect world.
With all of this data, we created a documentary video that highlights and expands upon the big issues with waste management and the conclusions about what we need to do as a campus community to improve the sustainability of UMD’s waste management. Please see the video for more a more in-depth analysis of out research.
Beginning research on this project, Ska Cubano had a goal of gathering information about what needs to change with waste management at UMD. This, initially, sparked thoughts of administrative and structural changes to what we thought must be an inadequate waste management system. Upon completing our first two interviews, however, we realized that UMD has not ignored or lacked completely the idea of making the waste management system more sustainable, but has rather worked to provide a sustainable waste management framework to its campus community. The larger problem, as we soon realized, is that the campus community needs to take responsibility for their own actions within the framework set by UMD. There is no means for UMD to create a perfect system, whereby people can act in any which way and still have no negative impact on the campus’s overall waste sustainability. It takes effort from each and every individual on campus to achieve a high level of sustainable waste management.
We discovered that the only way for UMD to reach its sustainability goals concerning waste is for everyone to fall back on the seemingly elementary, but often ignored concept of the “three Rs:” reduce, reuse, and recycle. While there seemed to be a large population on campus that was aware and actively participated in recycling, many ignored or forgot about the former two Rs. We must, as a whole community and as individuals, remember that reducing is the most important, reusing is the next best option, and recycling (which is still a form of waste) is a last resort. By shifting individual paradigms, we will eventually transform the larger paradigm of living disposable lifestyles to a more sustainable, while still highly enjoyable, style of living.
Interviews with the following people were conducted and used as primary data:
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