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Q&A with Kate Hartsel, UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life sustainability coordinator

UW-Eau Claire's 11 on-campus residence halls are home to almost 4,000 students. With those 4,000 people comes a lot of potential waste. Kate Hartsel, UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life sustainability coordinator, talks about the department's efforts to reduce the residence halls' footprint on campus. 

How have sustainability efforts in Housing and Residence life grown?

Since 2009 we have come a long way. In the fall of 2009 we started the Cardboard Corrals during move in day to recycle boxes. In the six years since we began the program, we have recycled more than 46 tons of cardboard.  

In the spring of 2010 we started the Give and Take Move Out event. Students can trade items and recycle broken electronics, cardboard, carpeting and metal futons. They also can donate food, toiletries, clothing and school supplies. During the 2014 event, almost 1,800 pounds of food was donated to Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire, almost three and a half tons of cardboard was recycled, 1,100 pounds of clothing was donated, 54 pounds of toiletries were donated to Positive Avenues, and 259 pounds of school supplies were given to the Eau Claire School District for low income students. In addition, we have reduced the amount going to the landfill during move out day by six tons.  

Housing moved to a single-stream recycling approach three years ago and increased our recycling totals by 52,000 pounds in one year. We continue to see more recycling and less waste in the residence halls every year. On April 15 we will hold our fourth Just Bag It Sustainability Fashion Show. This year it is open to all UW-Eau Claire students, and we are excited to be partnering with the Student Office of Sustainability. This event draws student attention to the importance of recycling and repurposing in such a fun way.  

Two years ago we started the SEED (Students Encouraging Environmental Deeds) peer-to-peer education program. We have provided educational programming on a variety of sustainability topics to more than 600 students. This year was our second year of running a competition in the residence halls during Recyclemania, and this year's Caught Green Handed program resulted in a substantial jump in recycling totals.

What part do students have in sustainability efforts?

We involve students in planning and executing every program and event. It is a really good opportunity for students to gain leadership, supervisory, event planning, marketing and other skill building experiences. Two student have won university awards as well: Bailey Kramer won the student Excellence Award for Sustainability in 2013, and Tyler Haro won the student employee Award of Distinction this year.

What new policies or procedures have recently been implemented? 

Our newest effort this year was the start of the plastic bag, film and wrap recycling program. Housing collects plastic bags, wrap and film in the lobby of each residence hall, from other campus facilities and from the university's maintenance crews. A student bales the plastic, which is then donated to REACH, a nonprofit organization that processes the plastic and sells it to TREX, a Wisconsin company that recycles it and uses it to make plastic decking, park benches and other consumer products. So far this year, UW-Eau Claire has sent more than 65 bales of plastic bags, wrap and film to REACH to be recycled. This is a great community-university collaboration.

We also are retrofitting the water fountains in the residence halls this summer to make them into water bottle refill stations at a fraction of the cost of installing new refill stations.

How do sustainability efforts affect students and the Eau Claire community?  

Our main goal is to raise awareness among residence hall students and encourage them to continue practicing sustainable behavior when they move off campus and into the work world. Some efforts have also made the environment in the halls better. For instance, we moved to using green seal certified cleaners that are less toxic and better for both the custodians and for the students whose rooms are cleaned with them. The changes we make to the facilities help us keep costs down and make the living environment safer and "greener." It is also important to me that we do these things with an eye to social justice. For instance, clothing we donate goes to King's Closet, a nonprofit that provides a store where low income and homeless people can "shop" but not "pay" for their clothes. It's another great community-university collaboration.

What has the impact of the sustainability efforts been for UW-Eau Claire in terms of energy, etc.?  

We have increased recycling and decreased waste, particularly during move in and move out days. We have retrofitted the HVAC system and windows in a number of residence halls resulting in increased energy efficiency. We have switched to low-flow shower heads and aerators on the faucets in all the residence halls to reduce water waste. We have put in motion sensors to reduce light usage, and we have replaced the washers and dryers with energy star models that use less water and electricity. We have repurposed furniture and mattresses for donation to many nonprofits. The one area we can't measure, but that I think is really important, is that we get students thinking about their impact on the environment and how they can leave less of a footprint.  

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Housing has made a strong commitment to sustainability both on the facilities side and through education and behavior change programming. Students who work in the Office of Sustainability and as Eco Reps have generated a lot of great ideas, and it is a pleasure to help make these ideas into real programs that have real benefits to our campus and our environment, both in terms of monetary cost and environmental costs.