CARBONDALE (SIU NEWS) – Southern Illinois University Carbondale is a national winner again for its commitment to going green, this time claiming a victory in the Campus Race to Zero Waste 2024 competition.

SIU won first place in the Green Events category for its operation of a zero-waste station at the annual International Food Festival. This is the first time SIU’s Sustainability Office has had a presence at the festival, which is part of SIU’s annual February International Festival and draws hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members.

“We are very delighted to have received this first-place ranking,” said Aimee Lemrise, sustainability director. “When our office decided to get involved with the Campus Race to Zero Waste, we decided the International Food Festival would be a great event to begin with. This required collaboration from across campus for the composting and recycling efforts. We received support from Facilities and Energy Management, the Student Center, the Student Sustainable Farm and our Saluki Green Action Team volunteers. We could not have won without their support. Strong partnerships are essential to develop a campus culture that works together to make impactful changes related to sustainability efforts on campus. We’re hopeful for more support like this as we continue to increase our presence on campus.”

With the help of the Student Sustainable Farm, Lemrise said the Sustainability Office organized compost and recycling stations for nearly 1,000 people in attendance at the festival and in so doing, managed to:

  • Divert 120 pounds of food waste and compostable materials from landfills.
  • Provide 150 compostable containers and about 75 other compostable materials to participants.
  • Generate 76.66 pounds of mixed recycling.

“That’s a total of 196.66 pounds of waste that was recycled and diverted from the landfill,” Lemrise said, noting that plans are already in the works to partner with the International Student Council to make next year’s International Food Festival zero waste event bigger and better.

“We’re also exploring other zero waste efforts for campus,” she said. “Campus Race to Zero Waste provides best practice case studies from campuses across the United States and Canada, and we are exploring waste minimization efforts, reviewing case studies and developing more initiatives for our campus. This summer, we’ll be working on our plans for the upcoming academic year, beginning with education and awareness campaigns.”

She noted that sustainability and waste diversion initiatives at SIU carried through the last days of the spring 2024 semester with the Give Before You Go campaign, an annual program operated collaboratively by University Housing, the Office of Sustainability, Career Development Center, Campus Ministries, Carbondale Rotary and Confluence Books to keep usable items out of the landfill. During move-out, students living in SIU residence halls donated unwanted items in designated spots, and the participating groups collected them and distributed them to local thrift stores and community organizations that serve people in need. Last year more than 7,900 pounds of clothing, furniture, bedding, towels, kitchen wares, cleaning products and other such items were put to use rather than ending up in landfills. During SIU’s Give Before You Go program May 8-13 this spring, 4,420 pounds of bedding and household items were collected and delivered to the Warming Center for their Houseless to Home program but not everything was weighed, Lemrise noted. She said 105 bags of clothing were donated to the Wesley Foundation, which is open to SIU students, and to the Thrift Store and 20 microwaves and 23 mini-refrigerators were collected for redistribution.

“Next year, we will be organizing a competition for students and setting up additional recycling stations to encourage even more engagement,” Lemrise said.

Sustainability Office graduate students Shadia Afrin and Bharathi Bhumireddy, along with Olivia Larrison, not shown, helped prepare, weigh, and record compostable items, mixed recycling and landfill items from the International Festival at the Student Center for transportation after the event. (Photo credit: SIU News)