Thinking Beyond Recycling

An awareness campaign is highlighting the University’s efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle, as well as encouraging students, faculty, and staff to think beyond recycling.

Launched in mid-November by Penn’s Green Campus Partnership, the awareness and outreach “ReThink Your Footprint,” campaign aims to increase dialogue about waste management around campus, with the goal of diverting more campus waste from landfills.

“Every year, students are coming to Penn with a more sophisticated understanding of sustainability. Working on the Climate Action Plan since 2009, Penn has gotten more sophisticated with them,” says University Architect David Hollenberg. “Yes, we can recycle, but sustainability starts with having less waste overall—that’s the deeper message of this campaign.”

Penn already has a strong reputation as a leader in its trash, recycling, and other waste management practices; “ReThink Your Footprint” seeks to get the University community to pause and think critically about their environmental footprint, as well as draw attention to some of the initiatives Penn already has in place, says Dan Garofalo, environmental sustainability director for the Green Campus Partnership.

“It’s a challenge,” Garofalo says. “Minimizing waste takes a lot of behavioral changes, and it’s something that will take years.”

In addition to University-wide initiatives, “ReThink Your Footprint” recommends a few innovative and team-building ideas for members of the Penn community who are looking to minimize waste on a smaller scale.

Offices and departments are encouraged to organize Office Clean-out Days and hold zero-waste meetings and events by using re-usable materials such as cups, plates, and flatware, or by using a catering service that offers a compostable service package.

“Penn is a place of individual and academic freedom, and of self-determination. You can’t just tell people what to do,” Garofalo adds. “What ‘ReThink’ is doing is providing the opportunity for people to think critically—which is one of the missions of higher education—about their environmental footprint.”

Text by Maria Zankey
Video by Rebecca Abboud