Sustainability Squad works toward waste-free future

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While some students spend game day cheering in the stands, students in the Sustainability Squad spend their game day sorting trash.

The Sustainability Squad is a group of students who sort waste into compost, recyclable or landfill categories during and after each football game with the goal of making the stadium zero waste by 2020. The group’s goal is part of the overall UT campus goal to become zero waste, meaning 90 percent of total waste stream would be diverted from the landfill, by Aug. 31, 2020, according to the UT Resource Recovery website. 

“Sustainability is something that could and should bring everyone together,” said Lauren Lichterman, Sustainability Squad operations and sustainability coordinator. 

In addition to volunteers who sort trash that has already been disposed, the group has volunteers like Manar Hasan who stand beside trash bins around the stadium to help attendees sort their own trash and educate people about the program.

“If thousands of people learn something, even if they learn to recycle just a little bit and apply it in their own lives … it’ll have a much bigger impact,” said Hasan, environmental studies graduate student.

The stadium is currently at about a 50 percent diversion rate. If the group is unable to reach the stadium’s zero waste goal, it is unrealistic that campus will be able reach the 2020 zero waste goal, Lichterman said. 

“That’s had a really big impact on us and we don’t want to be the reason the campus can’t succeed, ”Lichterman said. “We want to do whatever we can to help out.”  

Lichterman said volunteers have contributed almost 1,500 hours and saved at least 12,000 pounds of material from going to the landfill this season. She said they sort through 15 tons of the 40 tons of waste generated each game. 

Jessica Dreiling, corporate communications senior and Sustainability Squad social media coordinator, said being a part of a cause like this drives her.

“At UT we pride ourselves on ‘What starts here changes the world,’ and we want to be one of the leaders in athletic sustainability and sustainability in general,” Dreiling said. “I really think that starts here at the stadium.”

One of the biggest contributors to waste reduction has been cooperation of vendors inside the stadium, Lichterman said. Caterers switched to either recyclable or compostable packaging and products at the request of the Sustainability Squad. This required about 85 percent of the products to change since last season. 

“It’s amazing that they did that because we would be nowhere near zero waste and have no hope of being zero waste if they had not changed over those products,” Lichterman said.

Lichterman said another success of the sustainability program has been partnering with Central Texas Food Bank this season to donate leftover catering food to Texas families in need. This season they have donated about 1,300 meals to Central Texas families, Lichterman said.

There are many opportunities for student involvement, and Lichterman said they are always open to student ideas and volunteers.

“We love new challenges, and we love having student involvement,” Lichterman said. “That’s the bulk of what we do. We’re really passionate and we love hearing from people.”