Second Sustainability Lunch HOUR highlights campus receipt reduction and waste management and conservation policy

April 14, 2014 | by Sarah Olson

The Wisconsin Union and University Housing could save more than $700,000 combined if they stopped printing individual transaction receipts for the next 15 years, according to research presented at the Sustainability Lunch HOUR (Highlight of Undergraduate Research) March 28.

Campus receipt reduction was one of three research projects discussed at the second monthly Sustainability Lunch HOUR, a brownbag series that gives undergraduate researchers an opportunity to present their work, connect with the campus sustainability community and receive feedback from fellow researchers, students, faculty and staff.

Senior civil engineering and environmental studies major Rachel Feil, an intern with the Office of Sustainability, and freshman Kyla Kaplan of the Associated Students of Madison are partnering with a group in an environmental studies major capstone course to develop receipt reduction plans for campus entities including Transportation Services, the Babcock Dairy Store, DoIT, the Wisconsin Union and University Housing.

Feil and Kaplan used data from the Wisconsin Union and University Housing to calculate the annual cost of printing receipts. Based on an average receipt length of 6 inches, the Wisconsin Union spends an estimated $17,000 a year on paper receipts, Feil said.

But reducing or eliminating receipts is challenging because some campus units have policies requiring that every person receives a receipt with their transaction. Also, groups lack the technology needed for optional receipt printing or electronic receipts, according to Feil.

The pair said their goal is to encourage campus organizations to stop printing paper receipts completely, reduce the number of receipts they print or print receipts on BPA-free paper.

“I think UW–Madison entities really want to do it,” Feil said. “They’re really excited about reducing receipts, but they just need more resources.”

Junior geography, history, and environmental studies major and Office of Sustainability Student Leader Colin Higgins presented independent research on biodiversity offsetting in the British Isles, which he says he plans to continue and build upon in a senior thesis.

Higgins’ research focuses on a small area in the United Kingdom where the government launched a two-year pilot program for biodiversity offsets in 2012.

Biodiversity offsetting is a market-based approach to conservation in which people who reduce biodiversity in one area pay for credits that can be used to restore or enhance biodiversity in another area. The goal, Higgins says, is to offset the damage and achieve “no net loss” of biodiversity on a larger scale.

“It’s a pretty innovative and unique policy mechanism,” Higgins said.

Sophomore geological engineering major Miles Tryon-Petith presented on behalf of the Office of Sustainability operations team about campus recycling and waste management and its ongoing efforts to “put waste in its place.”

The team works with WE CONSERVE and Facilities, Planning and Management to monitor and manage trash, recycling and compost bins across campus. One of the best ways to evaluate campus waste, he says, is a trash audit – digging in to see what’s there and, often, what shouldn’t be.

Single-use coffee cups, Tryon-Petith said, are the most commonly mishandled items.

“Whether it’s summer or winter, the thing I see easily the most of is coffee cups, coffee lids and coffee sleeves,” Tryon-Petith said, and asked the audience to consider which of those items could be recycled or reused.

Both coffee lids and coffee sleeves are recyclable, he says, but coffee cups have to be thrown away because of a particular lining that helps manage the high temperature.

Proper disposal is further complicated by the university’s dual-stream recycling system, he said, in which cans, glass and plastic items are collected together and cardboard and paper products are collected separately. Cup lids should be recycled with plastics, while sleeves need to go in paper collection bins.

Tryon-Petith encouraged people to find creative ways to reuse items, including coffee sleeves, lids and plastic bags, saying, “I really hope that recycling, composting and keeping stuff out of the landfills as much as you can would become a part of our daily lives.”