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Sustainability Blog

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 12:07

By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I love talking about food on this platform. While I enjoy the
flavors of my favorite dishes and the vital nutrients they may provide, what I appreciate the most is how
they got to my plate. A lot of the food we eat is made possible by tweaking ancient agricultural practices
with modern technology in order to produce bigger yields for growing populations. What has stayed
constant over thousands of years is the fact that agriculture has significant effects on the environment,
economy and society.

If you’ve ever grown anything in your back yard, home or at the UB Campus Garden, you know that
plants require nutrients which they get from the soil. When you grow the same kinds of plants on a large
scale over and over again in one area, such as in a monoculture farm, you are depleting the soil of those
nutrients. The soil and I are very similar: we need lots of rest, nutrients and are susceptible to plagues
and diseases. So how can farmers combat these needs? The answer lies in fertilizers and agrochemicals.
While introducing these substances into the soil protects crops from pests and supplies the essential
nutrients the worn out soil lacks, they pose another set of problems. The use of chemicals can harm the
farmers who handle them and important microorganisms that live in the soil, as well as contaminate
surrounding soil and water. Fertilizers can also be washed away into nearby water bodies, feeding algae
and aquatic plants, disrupting ecosystems and suffocating co-habiting animals.

Another issue that comes with some agricultural practices is the employment of heavy tilling which
makes the soil more susceptible to erosion. Erosion and tilling contributes to greenhouse gas emissions
and affects the climates these farms operate in. What’s the most astounding part of this problem is the
rate at which it is happening. In Dr. Atkinson’s class, “Sustainability in Latin America, A Case Study in
Costa Rica”, we witnessed a farm that had been worn down 9 feet below the land in only 15 years. To
put it in perspective, it takes at least 500 years for just an inch of top soil to develop. Without the
implementation of conservative tillage practices and with an increasing reliance on agrochemicals and
fertilizers, we will continue to destroy our already limited farmable lands and will face an even graver
food insecurity issue.

I never said learning where your food comes from was going to be uncomplicated, but it should help you
understand how important your next meal is. We often forget that we can be more sustainable
consumers by supporting businesses that use better farming techniques and fair business practices for
their employees. The power of your wallet really comes into play when buying organic, fair trade or local
products and has a greater impact than you would think. We can also be more sustainable consumers by
avoiding overconsumption and wasteful habits.

On Friday, February 9 th , UB Campus Dining and Shops will be hosting a Waste Less dinner at C3. Special
menu items will be made from perfectly good produce that would’ve otherwise been thrown away due
to their imperfect appearance. Together, we will show our appreciation for where our food comes from
and that ugly vegetables are beautiful on the inside! We will also rewarding students who take what
they can eat and return to the canal with a clean plate.

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

Friday, December 8, 2017 - 15:36

We’re finally approaching the end of the semester. For most of us, finals are so close to being over that we can almost taste the sweet, sweet freedom from exams, due dates and 8 AMs. The upcoming break will be an exciting time to partake in holiday festivities! Unfortunately, this is a notorious time of the year for waste. ”How can I fully enjoy this season without destroying my favorite planet”, you might ask. Well, inquisitive and concerned reader, the good news is that I’m here to tell you that there are green ways to spend the holidays!

Giving gifts to a loved one? Swap wrapping paper for old news paper or opt for reusable bags or recycled gift bags to cut down on packaging waste that ends up in landfills. A great gift idea or holiday activity would be donating money, items or time to an organization. We often forget that poverty is a sustainability issue and there’s no better time to help your neighbors than this giving season. If you do decide to donate items, call your local shelter or donation center and ask them what they really need first.

Lights are a big part of holiday décor but did you know that electricity is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions? You can make a big impact by turning off any light when not in use or hooking them up to timers that automatically turn lights on or off at designated times. More efficient lighting options are out there such as LEDs and solar powered outdoor lighting. These practices should be employed throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

Finally, our favorite part of the holidays here at Campus Dining and Shops is the food! Food waste is a recurring topic of discussion in this blog and the holidays are responsible of producing a lot of that consumer waste. If you are hosting a dinner, you should take note of how many guests you will be serving and plan out portion sizes that will yield the least amount of waste. A great approach to cooking is the “root to stem” method. This means cooking things such as vegetables and fruits whole, or saving odd and end pieces for other dishes. For example, leftover turkey and vegetable peels are the components to a great stock. Leftovers can also be a great lunch the next day or repurposed into new dishes. Sustainability and creativity in the kitchen go hand in hand!

Speaking of food waste, look out for our Waste “Less” Dinner event at C3 early in the 2018 semester. Come join us for delicious dishes designed to reduce waste! By taking what you can eat, you will be inducted into the “clean plate club” where members are eligible to win prizes!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe break. Relax, unwind and get ready for the next semester (or don’t think about it at all and let it sneak up on you). See you next year!

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

Friday, November 10, 2017 - 16:05

Midterms are daunting times of the semester and for many students, myself included, it’s hard to think about anything else besides the information on the test and the fear of failing. Being sustainable during the most stressful times of college might be the last thing on your mind, but there are simple ways that will save you money so you can spend it after that statics, physics or ecology test to celebrate!

Integrating equations by parts, drawing out phylogenetic trees of life, or rewriting notes over and over again until it’s burned into your brain? Studying can require lots of scrap paper. Why waste good notebook paper that you paid for when there is an abundance of scrap paper at all printing locations on campus. I take it a step further and don’t even buy notebooks anymore because I am committed to reuse notebooks that still have clean pages and hole punch scrap paper and stick them in reusable binders. You could also nix the whole paper route while studying by using whiteboards, which I remember doing for my chemistry final freshmen year. You can also keep all notes electronically on your laptop or tablet.

Now in order to stay up and fight sleep deprivation, coffee will be your greatest ally. However, disposable cups and their plastic covers are not great friends with our planet. According to a study from the alliance for the Environmental Innovation in a collaboration with Starbucks, paper cups create .24 lbs of CO2 emissions each. Considering America consumes 400 million cups of coffee a day, .24 lbs of CO2 each is a lot of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. The production of each cup also entails water and energy as well as the chemicals used in the bleaching and lining, ink, packaging and oil used in transportation, which makes throwing out 1 cup more impactful than it seems. To combat this, many businesses like Starbucks and Campus Dining and Shops have reusable mug programs. At different on campus dining locations, you can buy a UB reusable mug for $2.99 and get your first fill for free. For every other fill up with that mug, you save 10% and prevent cups from filling our landfills.

Even though it doesn’t seem like it at first, little actions add up and can make a big impact. If everyone knew that everything in our lives is worth more in energy, water and materials than they seem, we’d have a lot less waste. Consciousness is key!

Good luck to everybody on your exams! No matter what you get on the test, you’ll get an A in sustainability* by following this blog!

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

*Not transferrable on a transcript, not for credit, not for a grade, not pass/fail, not real.

Monday, October 30, 2017 - 17:55

What’s spookier than goblins, ghouls, monsters, witches and werewolves? A planet with depleting resources and increasing waste!

Every year, we buy a flimsy costume accessorized with plastic, put up superfluous house decorations that take up energy, and consume copious amounts of sugar wrapped in plastic packaging. By nature, Halloween is a wasteful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Halloween costumes are a great way to give life to old clothes. With a little imagination and creativity, you can find a costume in the back of your closet, your parent’s closet, or the thrift store. This can save you money and prevents those items from being thrown into a landfill. DIY costumes also make them more special, more memorable and are a great conversation starter at your next Halloween shindig.

Another way you can reduce your carbon foot print this Halloween is by using greener methods to decorate your space! Spooky lighting should be high efficiency, LED lights that consume less energy. You can also fill Jack-O-Lanterns with solar powered walk way lights you might already have in your garden. If you decide to summon any spirits, make sure to use candles that are paraffin free! Even the dead will appreciate your efforts in helping the planet by avoiding candles that give off a carcinogenic soot.

As for the candy consumption, I can’t stop you from indulging. Just keep in mind that many conventional candies use palm oil, which is responsible for deforestation. Candy also contains a lot of sugar, which according to the World Wildlife Fund, is responsible for large amounts of biodiversity loss compared to other crops. I’d suggest finding a more eco-friendly brand of candy with minimal packaging or use natural sugars found in fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Speaking of monsters and sweets, come celebrate Cookie Monster’s birthday in the SU on November 2nd at 10 AM! Milk and cookies will be provided to celebrate the special event!

I hope everyone has a fun, safe and green Halloween!

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 18:02

Thanks to everyone who donated items to our World Food Day food drive on Monday! I’m so glad the UB community came together to alleviate hunger locally. Shout out to our raffle winner, Emily Luchterhand, for not only bringing in items for our food drive, but for also bringing additional non-perishables when she came to pick up her new mountain bike at the CDS office!

For our topic this week, we’ll be discussing recycling on campus. Hopefully you’ve all noticed that there are trash bins on campus as well as recycling receptacles. I would like to emphasize that these cannot be used interchangeably. Trash cannot be thrown in the recycle bins. Here is a guideline of what can and can’t be recycled on campus:

Paper: Printer paper, cardboard boxes (please flatten first) NOT napkins, paper plates/cups (like the ones found at Perk’s, Tim Horton’s, Capen Café)
Plastic: Plastic cups (Jamba Juice, Tim Horton’s), plastic containers (Moe’s, Edgy Veggies, Grab and Go items), detergent bottles, and water bottles NOT plastic packaging (potato chip bags, candy wrappers), Styrofoam or plastic bags
Metal: Aluminum (soda and other canned beverages, foil), tin and steel cans (tuna fish, soup cans), kitchen cookware and utensils (metal pots, spoons, etc.)
Glass: Bottles (Nantucket Nectars, wine bottles)

In addition to all in one recycling receptacles all over campus, you can also find battery recycling and reverse vending machines throughout UB. Battery recycling centers are in various and numerous classrooms and offices, including our office here at 146 Fargo! Reverse vending machines allow you to not only recycle plastic bottles, but also get money for it. Just take your receipt to a participating location such as the Elli, and get cold, hard cash in return.

These are very important aspects of UB’s recycling program because batteries and plastic bottles are taking a great toll on the Earth.
Batteries contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the soil of the landfills they occupy as well as the ground water underneath it. They can also harm the people working in facilities that treat waste and recyclables.

Plastic water bottles are another big contributor to waste. You can see more and more videos of trash that is occupying our oceans and affecting the life within it. Plastic water bottles are also very easy to recycle for 5 cents, which might not seem like a lot at first, but they can really add up. Another good solution to eradicate the need for plastic water bottles is to use a reusable water bottle and fill it up at filling stations on your way to class.

UB’s goal is to recycle 50% of their solid waste but hopefully in the future #ZeroWaste will be the norm.

-Maylan Nguyen,
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

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