UConn Today published a story about one of our Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants awardees on August 31, 2022.
Grantee Madeline Kizer is part of the team of UConn students bringing the Swap Shop to life on campus. From the article:
“Cheap clothing has created a culture of “disposable fashion” also known as fast fashion.”
“If something is so cheap, that’s how you know it’s not sustainable,” says Madeline Kizer ’24 (BUS) who is determined to educate as many people as possible about fast fashion and sustainable alternatives. She and other UConn students have established the UConn Swap Shop, a second-hand clothing store aimed at promoting sustainable shopping habits which will open its doors on Thursday, September 8th in the Family Studies Building.”
“We want to raise awareness about sustainability and get people to talk about it,” she says. “If we can get more people to shop sustainably and raise awareness of the issues, hopefully, we can create change.”
The Swap Shop is a place where students can donate clothes or swap for different items. Besides swapping clothes, Kizer says the shop will host events.
“We’re also planning to host sewing andupcyclingworkshops where we will teach people how to upcycle and the reasons for why we’re doing this,” Kizer says. “We also want to create other educational workshops or a talk series about fast fashion in general.”
CT Health I-Team published a story about one of our Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants awardees on July 5, 2022.
Grantee Madeline Kizer is part of the team of UConn students bringing the Swap Shop to life on campus. From the article:
“According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “The [Fast Fashion] textiles system operates in an almost completely linear way: large amounts of non-renewable
resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short time, after which the materials are mostly sent to landfill or incinerated,” under-utilizing recycling. And, many of the industry workers are women, age 18-24, who are exploited working long hours, making low wages, reports re/make.”
“Madeline Kizer of Wallingford hosts clothing swaps to promote second-hand shopping, aiming to raise awareness of fast fashion’s impact on the environment.”
“For the rest of the summer, Kizer and two classmates are finalizing UConn Swap Shop, an on-campus thrift store. Students will have the opportunity to swap clothing, each item having a designated point value. Kizer recalled being a freshman without a car on-campus and wanting to thrift in her free time. She hopes that the thrift store will teach students the importance of shopping second-hand.”
UConn Today published a story about one of our Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants awardees on April 28, 2022.
Grantees Matthew Chen and Hannah Colonies-Kelley are investigating student awareness of UConn’s local food purchasing. From the article:
[The students] “soon discovered UConn Dining Services was already purchasing 36% of its food locally. Other large public universities such as UMass Amherst purchase only 20% of their food locally, on average.”
“I think that especially as such a large university, the example UConn can lead for sustainability is important,” Chen says.
Author’s note: During Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, we acknowledge that many non-white Latinxs do not identify with the notion of Latinidad, defined as the collection of attributes and experiences shared by members of the Latin American identity. Many Black and Indigenous members of the community reject a unified notion of Latinidad because it ignores the violent, racist history of Latin American colonization and erases the different histories experiences of peoples in Latin America. For these reasons, this Latinx Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Black and Indigenous Latinxs to the conservation/sustainability field.
Feliz días de la independencia a mi gente Latinx! Con orgullo nicaragüense, les presento cinco pionerxs que están desafiando la definición de quién es ambientalista.
Happy (belated) Latinx Heritage Month! Between September and October, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and influence of the Latinx* culture in the United States. Celebrations begin on September 15, when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico celebrates the day after, and Chile recognizes their independence on September 18. Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by recognizing activists who call attention to environmental conservation while paying homage to their roots.
Xiye Bastida is an eighteen-year old Mexican-Chilean activist and member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation. She is from San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she was raised with Otomi indigenous beliefs that emphasized the reciprocity of taking care of the Earth. Her community experienced a severe two-year drought followed by extreme flooding events, which prompted her to examine how the extreme weather events are exacerbated by the climate and how this disproportionately impacts BIPOC** communities. Upon moving to New York City with her family, where she witnessed the lingering damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Bastida focused her energy on indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism. She is one of the principal organizers for Fridays for Future NYC, has mobilized people of all ages to participate in the Global Climate Strike, and is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Xiuhtezcatl Martínez is a nineteen-year old activist who wrote a book entitled We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement That Restores the Planet. His book examines the failures of world leaders to solve the climate crisis and suggests tangible steps that youth can take to mobilize their communities. Martínez is a youth director for Earth Guardians, and has advocated for large governments to address climate change at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and the UN General Assembly. Martínez cites his Mexica (Aztec) heritage as the motivation for his activism, and believes that all humans have a responsibility to protect the environment. Martínez shares his indigenous beliefs, stories, and experiences growing up as an activist in the spotlight through his hip hop music.
Katherine Lorenzo is an Afro-Latina climate activist who began her career by volunteering during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. She studied political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and has worked with advocacy groups such as Mi Familia Vota. Lorenzo frequently mentions that conservation is an inherent part of Latinx culture. While families are motivated to save money, there is an added benefit of reusing and wasting less. Lorenzo worked on environmental justice programs through CHISPA Nevada, and focused on the Clean Busses for Healthy Niños campaign to switch districts to clean, electric school buses. She currently works at a nonprofit, Energy Foundation, which promotes policy solutions to advance renewable energy and teach the public about the benefits of a clean energy economy.
Solimar Fiske is an activist who uses her Instagram feed #TakingUpSpaceOutdoors to amplify voices of color in outdoor spaces. Fiske speaks on the isolating experience of walking into outdoor clothing retail stores and not seeing anyone who looked like her, or clothing geared towards her frame. She says that engaging with her online platform has led her to find a community of activists (such as @melaninbasecamp and @unlikelyhikers) who are working towards the same goals she is, and that she is continuously learning about land acknowledgment, conservation, and environmental awareness. Fiske acknowledges that many people of color only see a narrow advertisement of what the outdoors is actually like, and face barriers of time, travel, and funds. She aims to educate others by emphasizing that experiences in nature are not out of reach, being a role model for other people of color who want to get involved outside, and taking up space as a woman of color, immigrant, person with mixed indigenous heritage, working class person, and person with a large body.
Melissa Cristina Márquez is a Puerto Rican and Mexican marine biologist and the founder of Fins United. The Fins United Initiative teaches people of all ages about Chondrichthyes (shark and ray) conservation, education, and co-existence. Márquez travels around the world speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in science. She has been dubbed the “Mother of Sharks” and has been featured on various nature programs, including Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. As a proud #LatinainSTEM, Márquez emphasizes the need for open communication between the scientific community and the general public, law and policy makers, and diverse stakeholders.
*Latinx: gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin/descent
Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.
Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.
According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?
Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.
Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.
Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.
The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.
So where does our beauty waste go?
Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.
How can you find sustainable skincare products?
Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.
Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.
Personal, financial, and health requirements may prevent you from being your most environmentally-friendly self right now, but there are still small steps you can take each day to support a more sustainable lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety is of utmost importance at this time, but if you have the time and means to do so, you can try out the following tips for living more sustainably during a pandemic.
Use washable, reusable masks. Many people hand make them out of extra fabric or other materials and sell them on Etsy, Facebook sale pages, etc. You can also make your own, if you have free time. Wearing disposable masks every time you need to use one creates a great amount of waste that can be avoided if you are able to wash and wear reusable masks.
Try to stick to reusable containers, towels, etc. You’ll need to wash them more frequently, but this will prevent unnecessary waste.
Buy in bulk when you can. This reduces wasteful packaging and helps minimize grocery store visits.
Clean up your spaces and declutter! Now’s a great time to clean out any junk drawers or messy spaces in your home. Donate these materials to Goodwill, Savers, the Salvation Army, or other organizations near you. Many of these organizations will sell the donated items if they can, or send the unsaleable materials to other processing centers for reuse or recycling. If you want a new project to tackle, repainting furniture from a thrift store can save you some money and make your stuff more meaningful.
Spend quarantine free time reading new books – audio books and earbuds allow you to multitask while you learn. You might even get a head start on the UConn Reads book this fall, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” which addresses climate justice from a Global South perspective. Many websites, such as Alibris and Betterworldbooks, have great selections of used books online for low prices. This saves you money while also encouraging reuse of materials! You can also choose to go paperless and tune into TV shows, YouTube videos, movies, and podcasts.
Volunteer at a community garden, urban forestry initiative, coastal cleanup, land trust, watershed group, or other environmentally-focused organization. This can include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, grounds maintenance and more to benefit your local community. Helping out sustainable community initiatives provides support to people in need and also the local environment.
Get outside! Now is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors, where there is plenty of room for social distancing. Go hiking, walking, running, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking or gardening. Travel to new places nearby or visit a local park. Get your friends and family outside to spend some time together in nature. Take a garbage bag with you to make sure you leave “nothing but footsteps” or even to clean up after others!
Research and support sustainable brands. This can include cosmetics, clothing, household products, and more that produce durable products and are committed to protecting environmental and human health.
Grow your own fruits and veggies, visit local farmers’ markets, and try new recipes that are meatless or more sustainable. Some farmers’ markets are still operating even in these times by offering goods for sale online or by outdoor vendors. Individual farms may have their own stores operating as well, although you should call ahead or check online for hours and restrictions. If you have free time, it could be fun to test out some new recipes with different vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that are healthy and sustainable.
Start a compost pile. This prevents food waste from entering the waste stream in landfills, where, in CT, it will be incinerated as trash. Instead, you can use the healthy soil from the compost in your garden or for any plants you have!
Disclaimer: CDC, state, and local health department guidelines should always be followed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and risk of infection. The above recommendations should not supplant health guidelines from public health agencies and the medical community. These suggestions should only be employed as they align with CDC, state, and local health guidelines.
The fight against plastic continues. Single-use plastic is pervasive in our lives and there is no exception for menstrual products. The products themselves and plastic packaging of tampons, pads, and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. In the US alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out and end up in landfills, sewage lines, and our oceans annually!
Luckily, many different reusable products have been popping up as alternatives on the market. This movement has been led by empowered feminists looking to redefine the quality of products available and take down the stigma of periods while shifting away from these single-use menstrual products. You can find reusable cloth pads, period underwear, menstrual disks, menstrual cups and many more creative solutions and continued innovations!
OrganiCup, a women-led Danish menstrual cup company, is one such company focused both on empowering menstruators and tackling this menstrual waste problem. By providing silicone menstrual cups that are reusable for years and come in multiple sizes, this company is breaking barriers, destigmafying periods, and generating much less waste.
Organicup has launched the “Campus Cup” program, an initiative to introduce their reusable menstrual cups to college students as a sustainable alternative to traditional menstrual products by providing students with free menstrual cups. Identified via our GreenMetric rating, UConn served as a pilot for this initiative.
The UConn Office of Sustainability brought the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Tampon Time program on board in order to effectively distribute 500 menstrual cups during USG’s Womxn’s* Health and Empowerment Fair on March 2nd, 2020 for the OrganiCup Campus Cup launch date!
During the Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair, excitement and chatter filled the Student Union Ballroom, as students and attendees engaged with different booths highlighting organizations catered towards supporting female/womxn students. At each booth, students could learn about how resources on and off campus connect sustainability, physical & mental health, sex, gender-based violence, intersectional identities, and other topics related to female health & empowerment. The Office of Sustainability even had our own booth with giveaways where we highlighted the cost of different menstrual products and the connections between climate justice, sexual assault, & female empowerment. The biggest draw to the fair, though, was by far the free menstrual cups given out, with students lining up out the door to pick up their very own.
With the opportunity to try out one of the many reusable products on the market for free, menstruating college students on a budget are able to test something potentially out of their comfort zones without spending anything, all while getting one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle and bringing sustainability to a part of their life that they may have never thought of.
Students walked away that day excited and ready to try out their free menstrual cup! This was a wonderful reminder to support continued efforts to talk about periods, provide comfortable and cost-saving products & resources for menstruating students, and find creative opportunities to incorporate sustainability on the college campus. And this fair was just the start; there are many more menstrual cups that will be distributed at UConn, through the Women’s Center and in public bathrooms across campus alongside USG Tampon Time’s disposable menstrual products.
Keep your eyes open as OrganiCup launches their nation-wide Campus Cup program this fall! Feel free to reach out to the UConn Office of Sustainability with any questions.
Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.
The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.
The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.
Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Students learn these words at a very young age. But their meaning and importance are often swept aside as kids grow older. Instead of forgetting about these fundamentals, we should be expanding upon them. Recycling, while accessible and easy, is not the best option of the three for environmental health. In fact, of the three, it is the least environmentally friendly. It is better to reduce your consumption of all items in general, but since consuming nothing at all is impossible in the current state of the world, at least reducing consumption of harmful materials would lessen a person’s environmental impact quite a bit. Reusing an item is also better than recycling it, as less energy is consumed in order to make and recycle one item that someone used over a period of time than two or three or four of the same item in that same window. So here is a list of ways to first reduce, then reuse your items before you recycle them.
Replace single use items with reusable ones once you have used up all pre-owned single use versions
If you forget your reusable bags at the store and need grocery bags, reuse them as small bin liners or to pick up after a pet.
Buy items secondhand
Electronics (buy refurbished)
Donate unused items to secondhand shops
See bullets for #2
Repair broken items rather than recycling them or throwing them away
Repair Cafes are places where experts can help people to learn how to fix their own items or help to fix them. Look online to find one near you!
And finally, if all else fails, recycle whatever you are unable to cut down on or reuse.
In a blog post like this, we would be at fault if we didn’t mention the privileged nature of individual action. Many sustainable tips include buying a reusable item that is much more expensive than a single use product would be. While, in the long run, these switches can save some people money, the upfront cost may be too much for others. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to afford all these tips, please consider also donating money or a box of these reusable items to a shelter or to a charity of your choice.
Spring semester has begun with more than just a few spring cleaning items at the Office of Sustainability. We have moved to a freshly renovated new space in the Institute of the Environment located in the Building #4 Annex behind Horsebarn Hill.
Sustainability was considered throughout our move as well as the comfort and productivity of our staff and intern team. With the help of Project Manager Tom Reichardt in Facilities Operations, we were able to design an efficient work space that minimized waste
Moving to a new office meant acquiring new furniture. In order to cut down on unnecessary waste, we decided to bring over all of our chairs from the old office, as well as some other furnishings, office supplies, computers, and printers. This significantly cut down the amount of new resources we used in the move, and saved money as well. All new furniture and construction materials were selected with sustainability at the forefront. Check out more energy-saving measures in the flyer above.
Staff and interns all agree that our new office space is already feeling like home! The color scheme is relaxing and the high ceilings reduce the claustrophobia associated with interior offices. Despite not having windows to see the abundant natural scenery, including serene farmland and the Fenton tract of the UConn Forest at our doorstep, two “drive-thru” style windows connect the collaborative intern space with two of the offices for staff. And while you can’t order an Impossible burger, these windows allow for productive conversations and quick feedback on assignments and projects from Sustainability Program Manager, Patrick McKee, and Administrative Coordinator, Cherie Taylor. Meanwhile our Director, Rich Miller, is also not far away, in the sustainably-renovated office right across the hall.
SUSTAINABILITY PROFILE OF OUR NEW OFFICE
HVAC pre-filters and low VOC paints, adhesives, and furniture used to preserve indoor air quality