Trent is cleaner, greener

Painted and costumed in their college colours, hundreds of first-year Trent University students will soon cap off Orientation Week with this year’s version of the loud and proud Great Race.

A recycling relay is one of the events.

“Students love it,” says Shelley Strain, Trent’s sustainability co-ordinator. “Upper-year students tell me they remember it.”

For the relay Strain puts together a miniature version of one of the dozens of recycling stations found on Trent’s campus. Team members run to the mini-station, a piece of cardboard, plastic or some other recyclable item in hand. They have to read the directions and figure out which receptacle it goes in.

“Invariably people coming from a different municipality will get something wrong, but they’re going to fight tooth and nail that they are right, because it’s right in Hamilton, or wherever they come from. Which is exactly the point,” Strain says.

“It really highlights the differences in the systems and then you get more people paying attention to adjusting to how we do things here.”

It matters that Trent students understand how recycling works on campus, and in Peterborough. Just over 1,500 of them will live in residences this year. Total enrolment is nearly 8,000.

Orientation Week is a tailor-made opportunity for Strain to make new students aware of their role in fashioning an eco-friendly campus. Waste diversion is her main theme.

Friendly reminders and hands-on lessons start the day students arrive. They have packing materials, cardboard boxes and other waste to get rid of. Volunteers show them where each college’s main recycling station is (outdoors, at the rear of the building) and explain what goes where.

Composting is also explained early and often.

“Something that is unique to Trent is that we compost on campus,” Strain says. “Whatever we produce on campus we are able to compost on campus.”

The 37 tonnes of compost produced last year was also used on campus, primarily in gardens.

Trent’s composting facility will be one stop on an eco-tour that is also part of orientation week.

“That’s more of a get-to-know-your campus initiative, but we put a green spin on it. We show them: ‘This is where your compost goes. It’s not for naught, we are actually doing something with it.'” Strain says.

“It’s important for people to see that.”

Another tour stop is the renovated P.S.B. Wilson athletics building. The spacious addition, which includes the coffee shop where we are doing our interview, was designed and built to a

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver standard. The Life and Health Sciences building is LEED Gold.

First-year students also get an explanation of a blue box program run by Community Living volunteers. Anyone can toss used printer cartridges or obsolete cell phones into a blue box to be collected by the volunteers, taken to the mail room for packaging and sent off to be recycled.

Community Living receives a small donation in return for each recycled item.

Strain put together the partnership with Community Living in 2008, shortly after she left her position as Peterborough County’s education and training officer to take on the newly created sustainability co-ordinator job at Trent.

“Second life notebooks” are another aspect of the partnership. Community Living volunteers bind paper that has been used on only one side into notebooks and hand them out to students to use as scrap paper.

A behind-the-scenes program students will be exposed to is the school’s Energy Performance Contract. Swapping out old lights for LEDs and incorporating efficient new boilers in the heating and cooling system will help reduce annual energy costs by $1.5 million.

But pointing students toward better recycling and reuse habits is the biggest opportunity to get them involved in sustainability progress. Strain believes that is true whether students live on campus or off.

“I think people’s approach and behaviour and choices probably dictate much more how much waste they generate than where they live does,” she says.

“They have a great opportunity. We just help them realize it.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, August 27, 2016.