Pacific’s Carbon Footprint: Does the shoe fit?

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One-hundred and fifty-seven tons, or 314,420 lbs, or better yet the same weight as nearly 52 cars stacked on top of one another—that is the amount of garbage Pacific University has thrown away this school year. Pacific’s Forest Grove campus is a hub for 3,875 students. In an attempt to combat this, the university aims to implement other means of sustainability on campus to lessen its carbon footprint.

Unlike other universities, instead of having Waste Management collect the university’s waste, Custodial Manager Doug Martin led the switch to Pacific self-distributing it. Martin explained, “We used to spend about $120,000 a year just to tip our garbage and to pay somebody else to take our cardboard,” Martin said. “The last 12 years we’ve spent about 30% of that, so we’ve done really well.”

Though Martin explained that on the surface it doesn’t seem like Pacific distributing its own waste is more sustainable, he described how big of a change it is from the past. “They’d send a giant diesel truck to each one [dumpster] several times a week, I mean our carbon footprint was off the map,” Martin said. “We’re using electric vehicles to pick things up [now]. It just works out better.”

Along with distributing trash on campus, Pacific’s custodial staff also collects recyclables. This school year alone, Pacific has recycled 43 bales of cardboard, or 23 tons. This weight is equivalent to approximately four adult elephants. Pacific also recycles items such as mixed recyclables (plastics, glass, etc.), toner cartridges, batteries, and metal scraps. However, Martin urges that the one thing the university cannot recycle is plastic Starbucks cups.

A recent change for Pacific has been the implementation of a compost system. The university’s Center for a Sustainable Society (CSS) manages all compost in student residence halls. However, the compost in the dining hall is managed by food service provider Bon Appetit. 

Since their recent addition to Pacific as of this year, they have been dedicated to composting. The compost they collect is from scraps in the kitchens as well as from whatever food students don’t finish. 

While composting is a great approach to sustainability, it is still the result of a huge amount of food waste. This was addressed by Bon Appetit’s General Manager, Ethan Davidsohn. Davidsohn described how Bon Appetit monitors service to avoid overproducing meals for students.

“Generally, we prepare food only for that little rush that’s coming, and then we’ll stop production until the first 20-30 minutes before the next rush. We’ll basically just produce based on need at that point to eliminate waste and overproduction,” he said.

Davidsohn further shared what Bon Appetit does with leftover food, including repurposing for soups, donating to shelters, and pig farms. He also addressed the usage of fruits and vegetables as display items. 

“We find that using vegetables and fruits as the core, especially when they’re vegetables and fruits that were used in the specific dish that’s being served, just kind of ties everything together,” he said, adding, “And then we do take those items and use them later.”

Bon Appetit is also known for their “Farm to Fork” program, which commits 20% of their food purchases from local farmers within 150-300 miles.

Director of the CSS, Michelle Larkins, described how this program is what makes Bon Appetit a more sustainable fit for Pacific. “I was really excited that they involve local farmers in Washington County.” 

As Director of the CSS, Larkins is in charge of overseeing other important sustainability facets on campus, including the Boxer Food Share and monthly Free Food Markets. 

“We’re kind of the hub right now for food insecurity stuff on campus,” Larkins said. “In the Fall semester we had over 1,200 student visits and 3,688 food items that left the Food Share— that’s just one semester.”

Currently the CSS is working towards making sustainability more inclusive on campus, as well as implementing a campus-wide styrofoam ban and guest meal donation plan. “We’re really focused on student engagement, [and] on making Pacific a space where students feel empowered to engage in sustainability.”


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