What if waste wasn’t viewed in such a negative light? What if waste could be repurposed? How can the United States change moving forward? If you attended The Waste Conference last week, you would be confronted with these questions and their answers.
The Office of Global Engagement at Drexel University hosted the 13th Annual Student Conference on Global Challenges Thursday, Feb. 27 and this year’s topic was “waste.” Hosted in the Grand Behrakis Conference Room, this year’s conference began with an introduction from Vice Provost Janice K. Marini, featured keynote speakers Tony West and Nic Esposito, had six student panel sections and concluded with a student poster presentation and awards reception.
The Student Conference on Global Challenges has been an annual event since 2008 and offers students a chance to learn about a significant issue, network with professionals and present research of their own. This year, the topic was “waste,” but recent years’ themes have been “creativity and innovation” (2019), “climate and the environment” (2018) and “crossing borders” (2017).
The first keynote speaker was filmmaker Tony West, who took a detour from sports videography to produce a documentary called “The Safe Side of Our Fence.” In it, he looks at the nation’s nuclear footprint and how communities have been affected by our nuclear endeavors. Since the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, thousands of workers’ lives have been risked due to the mishandling of radioactive waste. West talked about ways to ensure the safety of workers and protect the environment in future nuclear projects.
The second keynote speaker, Nic Esposito from Philadelphia, talked about the city’s Zero Waste by 2035 goal. As the name suggests, the plan is to divert all trash away from landfills and incinerators and instead promote an economy of reusing and recycling.
The audience’s biggest complaint, however, were the rumors that Philadelphia’s recycling often ends up in landfills and incinerators because it is too expensive to export it to the correct facilities. Esposito claims that the City of Philadelphia has since entered into a new contract which dictates that recycling does go to a plant for processing. However, he claimed that the new deal meant that only goods labeled with the 1, 2 or 3 symbol are eligible, meaning that plastics with codes 4, 5, 6 and 7 will not be recycled. This means that many plastic cups, bags, bottles and straws are not currently recyclable but food packaging, shampoo bottles and water bottles are.
Esposito said that more social changes are needed to achieve this goal: the public must be further educated about recycling, the status quo about waste in society must be changed and public trust in government initiatives must increase.
Additionally, during a panel about local community solutions and innovations to reduce waste output, student Tim Hanlon on the USGA Sustainability Committee spoke about Drexel’s initiatives. Some of the major changes on campus have been the introduction of the Cupanion water bottle, the Ozzi reusable takeout container for the Handschumacher Dining Center and the biodigester. By liquifying food waste from the dining halls, the biodigester is able to harness energy for electricity and heating in the city. Hanlon is also calling for an Office of Sustainability at Drexel in order to continue pushing change for waste reduction.
Following up on last week’s article about asbestos in public schools across Philadelphia, Marie Mastrobattista from Westphal College of Media and Design spoke on a panel about creating sustainable learning environments. She claimed that the lack of windows, asbestos and lead-ridden paint in outdated public schools are hindering effective learning. As a solution, Mastrobattista proposed the idea of a multipurpose community school in which kids attending would have access to education, recreation, meals and childcare.
Finally, the day concluded with a student poster session and awards. Projects ranged from fair trade solutions to using social media to promote waste reduction. One project, by student Milan Mahesh in the College of Arts and Sciences, was Medical Recycling. Introducing the concept of cleaning and repurposing medical devices, medical recycling can help eliminate a significant amount of biowaste in landfills.
The event concluded with awards for each of the panelist sections, who will be funded by the Office of Global Engagement in order to move forward with their proposals.