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Turning trash into treasure: Eco Reps make colleges greener

Virgina Liu / Thresher

By Sejal Gupta     11/7/23 11:04pm

Ever wondered if you’re more eco-friendly than your neighbor? At McMurtry College, Eco Reps will give you a badge for your door to flex your sustainability skills to your floor. Have a bunch of old problem sets laying around? At Lovett College, the Eco Committee offers opportunities to turn your trash into treasure at Eco Craft nights.  

Eco Reps are student liaisons between the Office of Sustainability and residential colleges that receive $1,000 per school year from Housing and Dining to organize initiatives that educate and involve students in sustainability practices, both on and off campus. 

Rebecca Yee has been an Eco Rep at Wiess College for the past three years, organizing events like visits to the Rice Village Farmers Market, succulent potting, volunteering at the holistic garden and a clothing swap.    

“We try to do an event two to three times a semester,” Yee, a senior, said. “Last year, we did a vegan baking contest. We try to plan fun and easy ways for people at Wiess to get involved with sustainability”. 

At Lovett, Eco Reps Amy Lam and Sophia Figueroa formed an Eco Committee to get more students involved in organizing sustainability-related events and grow the Eco Reps’ presence within the college. In October, Lovett hosted an Eco Craft night, where students could make fall decorations with repurposed paper and cardboard materials like old Thresher copies, flyers for past events and granola bar boxes. 

“I like making things out of what we commonly regard as waste,” Lam, a junior, said. 

McMurtry and Duncan College had a “sustainable room certification” competition where students filled out surveys with their living habits and received badges that corresponded with their sustainability score. Sofia Gachuz, an Eco Rep at McMurtry, said the survey was popular with students from both colleges.

“We asked questions like, ‘Do you turn the lights off when you leave the room? Do you use natural lighting when possible? Do you recycle? Do you compost?’” Gachuz, a sophomore, said. “A lot of people participated, about 100 per college.” 

There are many accessible ways students can be more environmentally conscious in their day to day lives, Lam said, such as buying second hand clothing (or borrowing from friends) before the next themed party to save money and prevent the waste that comes from unnecessary consumption. Other ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint are to eat more plant based foods and less meat, use public transportation when possible and compost after meals. 

“It’s hard to change habits, but everyone can do a little bit each day to get better,” Gachuz said. “Think about who and what each of your daily actions affect.”

Along with residential college initiatives, the Eco Reps are working on cross-college and campus wide projects. In September, Martel College, Brown College and Lovett hosted a vegan sushi making night in Brown Kitchen where Lovett residential associate Naoko Ozaki taught students how to roll plant-based sushi. Eco Reps also help publicize the Office of Sustainability’s initiatives like Green Dorm Initiative Week and Campus Sustainability Day.

“The events we’ve done [at Lovett] like Lovett Thrifts, Eco Craft night and the farmers market trip have all been at no cost for students. You can take part in sustainable behaviors without spending money,” Lam said. “As an individual it doesn’t take a lot of effort [to be sustainable], and when a lot of people are doing it, it has a big impact.”

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