UR Students Go to Students for Zero Waste Conference

Left to right, back to front: Emily Su, Skylar Schutter, Juliana Smith, Andie Burkey, Max Sheldon, Henry Scharfe, Emma Mantel, Margaret Thurston, Rosemary Aviste, Kayla Zilke, Tiffany Dias, and Natalie Ramesh

For those of you who don’t already know, the University of Rochester is now a Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) member school. You can read more about what that means and entails in the PLAN blog post I wrote in September. Every year since its inception, PLAN has held its Students for Zero Waste conference for students, staff, community leaders, and other members of the zero waste movement to attend. This year, Rochester brought fourteen students to the conference, which is way more than ever before! GreenSpace, Grassroots, and EcoReps all sent members to Philadelphia on November 2 and headed back to Rochester on the morning of November 4.

The weekend started with three cars full of Rochester conference attendees leaving whenever its passengers were available to go. The car I was in departed at 11 am and we got to the University of Pennsylvania just in time for the keynote address with Melissa Miles, an activist from Newark, New Jersey, who spoke about the intersection of waste and environmental injustice. After that, we got food and went to our housing assignment for the weekend: a church not far from UPenn. Sleeping on the floor wasn’t the best, but at least it was free!

For conference-goers who arrived in Philadelphia earlier on Friday, there was an environmental justice tour in Chester, PA. After that, there was a resilience workshop.

Everybody got up early to head back to UPenn for a day packed with workshops, panels, meetups, meals, and an activity fair. Every meal provided at the conference was 100% zero waste. Attendees were encouraged to “BYOE”: bring your own everything, and for those who forgot or didn’t want to wash their dishes, dishes purchased from Goodwill and compostable options were available. For breakfast, we had gleaned bagels with a variety of spread options, which were all in recyclable tubs, some of which were from the bulk section. There were also bananas and apples that were rejected from supermarkets because of minor cosmetic issues. The rest of the meals used every part of the ingredients, including scraps being used to make hot sauce. That which was not used or eaten was composted.

The workshops addressed a variety of topics related to the zero waste movement and the groups that are a part of it. Yours truly had the opportunity to lead one about organizational turnover with Rosemary Aviste (Class of 2020), which went well. The other workshops I went to that day were about the health risks of plastic, sustainability and entrepreneurship, a trading post at Stockton University, examples of businesses fighting plastic pollution, and the reuse economy.

Throughout the day, there were companies and organizations supporting zero waste tabling. I was excited to find out that Lush was there, but disappointed to find that they ran out of samples by the time I got there. It was good to learn about what corporations and nonprofits are doing to promote sustainability and reduce waste.

After a long, busy day, PLAN organized a “trashion-inspired” drag show, which was so much fun and an excellent way to end the conference.

About the author

Kayla Zilke

I'm a member of the Class of 2021 from Seattle, WA majoring in psychology with minors in business and environmental humanities. I'm involved with Quidditch, GreenSpace, EcoReps, intramural sports, the Student Association of Vegan and Vegetarian Youth, and Hatha Yoga.

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