Ellis Blake Hidalgo
Mercury Staff

University recognized by Association of Physical Plant Administrators with Sustainability Innovation Award for eco-friendly efforts

UTD was recently honored for its efforts to increase sustainability on campus with an award from the Association of Physical Plant Administrators. The 2019 Sustainability Innovation Award was presented to the university for its work towards reducing food waste and plastic usage.

Associate Director for Sustainability and Energy Conservation Gary Cocke said staff at Dining Hall West and Student Union eateries reused and composted organic waste to ensure the facilities created no food waste. 

“If you ever go into the back of the house and see their operation in Dining Hall West, they have ‘waste-not-want-not’ buckets. Any food waste associated with food preparation goes into those buckets … then they use it before it becomes a waste,” Cocke said. “The only disposal container that you’ll see in that home is a compost collection bin. We’ve gotten rid of straws. There’s no ketchup packets, no mustard packets, and there’s basically nothing that would be considered contamination into a compost stream.” 

Cocke said Organix Composting, a company located in Hutchins, TX, helped the university decrease food waste on a larger scale.

“They have a commercial composting facility in Hutchins. Because they have 50 acres and it’s just windrow after windrow … of compost and they’re doing it at a scale that allows them to compost materials that you couldn’t do if your compost in a backyard,” Cocke said. “But because they are doing it at such a large scale in the compost pile, which can get to high temperatures, they’re able to handle that.” 

Student-led efforts such as the UTD chapter of the Food Recovery Network and the Student Government’s Green Initiative have helped to decrease food waste as well, Cocke said. UTD’s Food Recovery Network leader Sandra Mihail, a biology senior, explained the work done with DHW to utilize unneeded food and decrease waste.

“We’re kind of a new organization on campus. But what we do is we take extra food in the dining hall and the Einstein’s Bagels and we drive it to a shelter for battered women a little bit down the road,” Mihail said.

Hope’s Door New Beginning Center, the shelter the Food Recovery Network donates to, provides aid and food to domestic abuse victims. Since its founding in 2017, FRN members have donated approximately 2.5 tons of food to the shelter and Mihail said she hopes to see the organization grow in the coming years.

“So, right now we’re talking about becoming a… driver’s network,” Mihail said. “We’re trying to see if we can have an expansion point where if someone’s running an event and they have too much food, if we could take that food as well.”

Green Initiative chair Genna Campain said that through educational speakers and easily accessible programs, the Green Initiative is working to make sure all students play a part in UTD sustainability.

“We have the composting program in the University Village so that (students) can come and get trained in composting and then they can get a compost bin which helps cut down on food waste because it allows them to compost all of the organic materials that would otherwise be thrown in the trash last year,” Campain said.

Student interest in sustainability plays a part in shifting the university’s priorities, Cocke said. He stressed the cumulative effect of small actions, encouraging all students to make an effort toward sustainability.

“My biggest thing is I would like every person, student, faculty, staff and human to think about what they can do to be a better steward,” he said. “I think that most of us if we look at what we could do, and we try, will be surprised how easy most sustainable choices are, and once you get started, you’ll get past those barriers more easily than you think.”

Graphic by Alesandra Bell | Mercury Staff