UW–Madison sustainability students prepare to take their trash talk nationally – to a conference

October 6, 2015 | by Maija Inveiss

Students Brenna George, Breana Nehls and Marie Faust prepare their conference presentation.
Students Brenna George, Breana Nehls and Marie Faust prepare their conference presentation.

When it comes to digging through and learning from trash, UW–Madison Office of Sustainability interns are pros. After auditing more than 1.5 tons of waste from 15 academic buildings on campus, they have a strong understanding of what should – and more importantly, what should not – be in the trash.

This weekend, four undergraduates from the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability will take their trash talk to the University of New Hampshire to present at the 2015 Students for Zero Waste Conference hosted by the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN).

Inspired by seeing a perfectly good futon in a dumpster on his campus, a New Hampshire student started PLAN in 2013 to encourage students to reduce waste on campuses everywhere. The conference invites students from across the country to present their waste reduction projects and learn from other students.

“It’s a super cool conference because it is student-run,” says Brenna George, student leader in the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability. “All of the presentations are given by students.”

She will present with fellow UW–Madison students Marie Faust, Brian Keenan and Breana Nehls, and Lisa Bjerke from the College of the Atlantic. Bjerke conducted a full campus trash audit of her university in Maine.

The group will conduct a 90-minute hands-on workshop based on the Office’s ABCs of Waste program to teach students how to run a trash audit to collect data about campus waste streams and human behavior, and how use the results to improve campus recycling systems. They will also cover different strategies such as signs, bin changes, education and outreach.

Faust is excited not only for their presentation but also what she hopes to gain from all the other attendees.

“We get the opportunity to kind of learn from our peers, and what’s special about this conference is that it shows how much undergrads can actually do with their careers at a university,” Faust says. “You can come to a campus and make a positive change.”

Student presenters:

  • Marie Faust, senior, majoring in biological aspects of conservation, environmental studies, and modern European history
  • Brenna George, junior, majoring in operations technology and management and environmental studies
  • Brian Keenan, junior, majoring in economics and environmental studies
  • Breana Nehls, senior, majoring in geography and environmental studies