No Waste Dinner teaches first-years to consider environmental sustainability

First-year students were invited to attend last week’s No Waste Dinner. (credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor) First-year students were invited to attend last week’s No Waste Dinner. (credit: Courtney Wittekind/News Editor)

Carnegie Mellon’s incoming first-year students were quickly acclimated to the university’s strong environmental sustainability movement last Tuesday when a No Waste Dinner was held in Wiegand Gym during Orientation week.

The meal, prepared and served by CulinArt, was sponsored by the Steinbrenner Institute, Carnegie Mellon’s Eco-Reps, and Carnegie Mellon Green Practices.

At Tuesday’s buffet-style dinner, which served over 1,500 first-years of the Class of 2014+ and hundreds of additional Orientation staff, students were asked to “take only as much food as they could eat.” Biodegradable plates, napkins, and cutlery made from Spudware were provided to reduce and eliminate post-consumer waste. There were several compost receptacles located around the gym, each attended by students and staff who facilitated the compost process. After students filled large green bags of compostables, they were taken to the composting areas outside the University Center.
“We hope we can get people more involved around campus, making sure our dorms and eateries are more sustainable,” said Eleanor Erney, a senior in business administration and co-coordinator of the Eco-Reps.

The group, whose priority is to promote environmental sustainability in residence halls, hosts informative and fun events for students every month. “We are doing little things that make a big difference,” Erney said.

Another group that was highly involved in the planning and execution of the Orientation No Waste Dinner was the graduate student organization Net Impact. Members of Net Impact represented Carnegie Mellon as delegates to the December 2009 Copenhagen environmental conference. Among those students was Justin Parisi, an MBA student also in the civil and environmental engineering master’s program. “We thought that this would be a great venue to showcase CMU’s capability and commitment to environmental responsibility for all of the incoming freshmen,” Parisi said. Barb Kviz, Carnegie Mellon’s environmental coordinator, agreed, saying, “Actions speak volumes.”

While the No Waste Dinner proved to be a successful promotion of Carnegie Mellon’s green practices, it was by no means the only environmental sustainability awareness campaign during Orientation. Along with publicized events held at the Solar Decathalon House in the Donner ditch, there were also several behind-the-scenes steps taken to make Orientation 2010 more environmentally friendly. Instead of bottled water, large jugs of water with biodegradable cups were provided during move-in and at all meals, and students were encouraged to use their refillable, customized Orientation 2010 water bottles. In total, Orientation 2010 used at least 5,000 fewer water bottles compared to past orientations. Food packaging was also minimized as much as possible throughout the week.

Currently, there are two prevalent pre-consumer compost collection sites on Carnegie Mellon’s campus: one located by the UC loading docks and one in the Resnik loading dock in Donner ditch. The compostable materials are collected from these sites by a company called AgRecycle, which takes them to be locally composted. For now, however, Carnegie Mellon students lack large-scale post-consumer compost opportunities on campus. Such facilities would require major expansion and improvement of the current composting system.

Shernell Smith, coordinator for Student Development and Eco-Reps adviser, pointed out that large-scale environmental sustainability programming will by no means end with Orientation. Citing the cooperation between the Office of Orientation and Housing and Dining to “green” last week’s first-year experience, Smith explained that there is a great potential for similar No Waste events to come, as long as there are students passionate about the cause.

“There’s an element of green in being plaid,” Smith said.

To learn more about Carnegie Mellon’s environmental developments and how to get involved on campus, visit