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Strawless September

Did you know that each year 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, which is equivalent to one garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute of every day? A big part of that plastic litter are straws. Recently, avoiding straws has been gaining a lot of traction and UT is wanting to raise additional awareness on this important environmental movement! Below we answer common questions about straws and encourage you to join us for a Strawless September throughout all Vol Dining facilities!


Why can’t I recycle my straw?

  • Most plastic straws are too lightweight for mechanical recycling sorters, meaning they drop through the sorting screens, then mix with other materials and contaminate the entire load
  • If they do make it through the sorters, plastic straws are made out of a certain kind of plastic that is only accepted at very few recycling centers across the US

How do they get into the oceans?

  • Because of their lightweight material, often they can blow from trashcans and enter the waterways, and all storm drains lead to the ocean
  • Often, they are littered and left on beaches in many coastal communities
  • Once in the oceans, an estimated 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs, resulting in a 50% mortality rate

How many are being used daily?

  • According to National Geographic, in the United States alone, 500 million straws are used daily
  • An average person will use 38,000 straws in 60 years
  • It is estimated that by 2050 there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish

What alternatives are there?

  • The best alternative is to either get a reusable straw to use again, or avoid the straw all together
  • Paper straws and compostable straws are a great alternative, however make sure you dispose of them correctly. If compostable straws do not get placed directly in the compost, they have the same negative effects as a plastic straw
  • At restaurants, be sure to order your drink without a straw

What is UT doing?

  • At all Starbucks locations, be sure to ask for a Strawless lid
  • Aramark operations has removed 100 million plastic straws a year, which equals over 12,000 miles, which placed end to end is enough to wrap half way around the world
  • Campaigns like “Strawless September” are to help bring awareness to the UT community about why avoiding straws are to important. Help us spread the word and make your September (and year) Strawless!




Affordable Reusable Items

Most of us care about being a little greener, but it can be inconvenient or expensive to make eco-friendly switches in our day-to-day lives. We’ve put together a list of practical & affordable items you can buy to make your life more zero waste.


1. Reusable straws. It is estimated that over 500 million straws are thrown away every day in America, and the ones that don’t end up in the landfill contribute to the 8 million metric tons of plastic trash that end up in our oceans every year. Buying a pack of reusable straws cuts down on this waste and allows you to drink in style!


2. Portable utensils. To avoid single-use plastic while eating out, bring your own utensils! These travel utensil sets are light, convenient, and be reused over and over again. For extra convenience, check out spork options!


3. Bamboo toothbrush. In the U.S., each person uses an average of 156 toothbrushes over their lifetime. Where do these end up when it’s time for a replacement? The landfill or worse: the Great Pacific Plastic Patch. Bamboo toothbrushes can be recycled or composted! Plus, check out this great graphic that Mother’s Vault made to show how you can reuse bamboo toothbrushes.


4. Reusable produce bags. Instead of searching for the plastic bags in the produce department, bring your own! These mesh bags are perfect for storing and separating your fruits and veggies, and can be used for other organizational needs such as laundry, lunches, and travel.


5. Reusable grocery bags. Much like the produce bags, these help cut down on plastic waste when buying food. Plus, they can hold more and be used for carrying much more than groceries! Most grocery stores now sell reusable bags near the checkout, but they can also be found online.


6. Reusable food storage. Washable ziploc bags and cling wrap? Yes please! These products are sturdier than their traditional plastic counterpart, and they save you money in the long run.


7. Unpaper towels. Instead of using disposable napkins and paper towels for meals and cleaning, pick up a pack of “unpaper towels” (cloth napkins). These save waste and money over time, and can be found in fun colors and prints.


8. Water bottle. An absolute must-have for travel, workouts, outdoor adventures, heading to class…you name it. Plus, an insulated bottle like this keeps your water cold for hours and is perfect for the refilling stations all around campus!


9. Travel mug. For your on-the-go hot beverage needs, a travel mug is the way to do it. They come in so many colors and styles, plus many stores will give you a discount for bringing your own mug, just like the Mug Project here at UT!


10. Natural deodorant. Aside from not having harsh chemicals in it, this natural deodorant’s packaging can more easily be recycled or reused for other things.


11. Makeup remover pads. To take your beauty routine to the next eco-level and even add in a little luxury, a reusable makeup remover pad is the way to go. These can be thrown in the wash with your dirty towels, and you don’t have to worry about running out or having to buy more!


12. Menstrual cup. Women spend on average $80-$120 on menstrual products each year, and all of them end up in the landfill. A reusable cup reduces waste and has a lifetime of up to 15 years, reducing expenses as well!


13. Safety razor. With these all-metal razors, nothing needs to go in the trash can! The blades are recyclable and refills are typically cheaper than plastic alternatives, and the handles can be reused many times.


14. Dryer balls. Substituting wool dryer balls for dryer sheets cuts down on waste, chemicals, and cost of laundry. Adding a few drops of essential oil can help to freshen up your clothes.


15. Laundry egg. These detergent substitutes come with a year’s worth of refills, and for such a low price! With these eggs, there’s no big detergent bottle or container to get rid of when it’s time to restock.


Most local grocery stores have reusable bags you can buy on your next trip, many farmers markets have zero-waste food items such as cloth napkins, and your local outdoor store has great options for water bottles, travel mugs, and cutlery sets.

If you’re concerned about the packaging that comes with buying online, Package Free Shop makes it a priority to provide quality, zero waste items online with no plastic packaging. Products they carry range from kitchen and cleaning products, to eco-friendly pet toys.

Many cities also have co-ops that stock dry goods in bulk, reducing packaging and promoting zero waste. Three Rivers Market is a local co-op in Knoxville, and it stocks many zero-waste products from local vendors in addition to their bulk section.

We hope these tips have helped you to find the affordable alternatives needed to #MakeOrangeGreen!

A Year in Review

The 2017-2018 academic school year was another standout year for the Office of Sustainability. From events, both old and new, the office was able to engage numerous faculty, staff, and students on what it means to “Make Orange Green”.

Here are a few of the highlights from the year:

Over the academic year we had 117 volunteers contribute to over 300 hours of service. We individually educated over 250 students by going to classrooms to present about the various projects currently underway across campus, as well as providing real world data for individual research and design projects.

During the 2017 POWER Challenge, held throughout October, campus avoided $72,000 in energy costs from conservation efforts by students, and our office collected 251 signatures pledging to make more environmentally conscious decisions in their day to day lives.

In the winter months we with worked residence halls for Thanksgiving and Winter Break shutdown, to ensure that no energy or water was wasted while students were on break. Additionally, in January we had the theme of “New Year’s Resolutions: Be Green”, where we gave out numerous tips on how to live a more environmentally lifestyle in the new year. These were highlighted weekly in the Vol-Update, the newsletter that goes out to all UTK students twice a week.

We celebrated Earth Month all throughout April, with eight different events. Over 1,000 students attended a variety of events, including Sustainability Day of Service, Environmental Leadership Awards Dinner, Earth Month Celebration, and the Environmental and Sustainability Career Mingle.

At the Earth Month Celebration, we had a record number of twenty-five environmentally focused organizations from campus and around Knoxville attend the event. Some highlights from the day included pop-up shops from the UT Recycling Free Store, Smokey’s Closet, Goodwill Industries, and the UTOPS Mobile Bike Shop.

One of the major success of the year was our office’s interaction with student groups. The formation of the “Environmental Summit” was created, which included all of the board members from the various environmentally focused groups on campus. This led to great connections between our office and these student groups, as well as students in general.

One example of the newly established connections amongs

t student groups was ‘Whirlwind Wednesday”, an event put on by the Center for Student Engagement. As a mini student engagement fair for various organizations on campus, Wednesday, March 7th was the designated day for environmental organizations where the environmental groups interacted with potential new members.

On social media, we saw an 331 individual increase in our followers this year, through our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

The Student Environmental Initiatives Committee (Green Fee) approved seven new projects, including funding the new bike share program in Knoxville, Pace, and the installation of two new rain gardens at BESS and Stokely.

Other highlights include new partnerships with different departments on campus, including Be Well for Bike to Work Day and the UT Gardens, for a service event at the gardens.

More updates from the year can be found in our 2017-2018 Environmental Impact Report. Images from all of the events over the year are uploaded on our Facebook. If you have any questions about the above events email

Wetlands Boardwalk Installed at UT Gardens

The Green Fee, officially known as the Student Environmental Initiatives Facilities Fee, is one of the four Facilities Fees embedded in student’s tuition, that was established in 2005 by the SGA to create a fund for environmental projects on campus.

One example of a Green Fee Funded project is the new wetlands boardwalk installed last week at the UT Gardens.

A 78-foot long boardwalk now spans the middle wetland at UT Gardens. This boardwalk will provide visitors to UT Gardens, an opportunity to see the biota and fish that reside in the wetland, creating another in person learning experience for the campus population and community visitors. Wetlands are a natural filter for water moving through the landscape. The created wetland receives runoff from an uphill parking area as well as the surrounding manicured gardens, helping to protect the Tennessee River against nonpoint source pollution originating from these areas.

The project is a demonstration for homeowners as well as for municipal governments hoping to turn a drainage problem into a landscaping amenity. The project will soon display signage that helps visitors understand the complexity of the built environment as they experience a wetland ecosystem just off Neyland Drive.

The created wetland was made possible through a grant from the Tennessee Stormwater Association, design and construction oversight by faculty and staff, construction from Facilities Services, and nearly 1200 hours of effort from UT Wildlife & Fisheries Science students. Friends of the UT Gardens volunteer to maintain the wetland to prevent against invasive species establishment.

The project is a collaboration of faculty and staff in Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science, Plant Science, and Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries Departments as well as Facilities Services at UT. The Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization assistance during wetland construction and to the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment for support of future research.

For more information, visit and

Move Out Donations

Summer is just around the corner and it’s move out time in Tennessee! If you have things in your residence hall or apartment that you just can’t seem to justify moving back from Rocky Top, UT Recycling has some options for you! So before you put anything in the trash, check out these donation options:

On-Campus Students

There are labeled bins in the lobbies of the residence halls on campus where you can donate the following:

  • Clean, unripped, unstained clothing
  • Clean bedding
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Unopened, unused cleaning and hygiene products
  • Small kitchen appliances
  • Laundry detergent/laundry supplies (unopened AND open!)

For larger furniture/appliances, contact UT Recycling at 865.974.3480 or

You can also put rugs and cinder blocks on the designated pallets near dumpsters.

All of these donated items go to help partners in our community, including Goodwill, Smokey’s Pantry, and Laundry Love.

Off-Campus Students:

UT Recycling has several local partners that do great work in the Knoxville community to help reduce during move out. Take your unwanted bedding, clothing, and appliances directly to Goodwill! Goodwill trains individuals at 5 different employment training and rehabilitation centers, and they served ~3,000 individuals in 2017. Visit for more information.

Food and cleaning supplies can be donated to Smokey’s Pantry, Monday through Friday 11-3. Smokey’s Pantry is a collaboration between SGA, Tyson House, FISH Pantry, and other partners, and provides food and hygiene products to students and community members. The pantry is open to everyone and they don’t ask for IDs or any qualifying information.

Any unwanted laundry supplies can be dropped off at Bluewater Laundry (3721 N Broadway). Laundry Love tries to ease the burden of laundry care for struggling families. They provide free laundry the third Thursday of every month at Bluewater Laundry.


What UT Recycling and their partners can’t accept:

  • Things that are dirty, broken, ripped, or otherwise damaged
  • Mattress toppers and mattresses
  • Undergarments (underwear and bras)
  • Opened/half-eaten food
  • Perishable foods (must be taken straight to Smokey’s Pantry)
  • Opened and used cleaning supplies

These donation options will be available until May 14th, so be sure to check them out!


Earth Month Events

Every year Earth Day falls on April 22nd, dating back to its inception in 1970. Through time, the entire month of April has transitioned into Earth Month, as opposed to a one-day celebration on April 22nd. Our office puts on a variety of different events to involve the campus in ways they can make a difference both on campus and around Knoxville, as well as how to live more sustainable lives.

This past Earth Month featured five different events and three volunteer opportunities. The month kicked off with the Environmental and Sustainability Career Mingle, in collaboration with Career Services. Ten organizations attended and provided students firsthand insight and advice for what it’s like working in the environmental field. Students were also able to make connections with these organizations, and set up potential internships, volunteer, and job opportunities.

Friday, April 6th was Big Green Friday, an environmental spin off Big Orange Friday, led by the SGA, where the UT community is encouraged to wear green to show their commitment to the environment. The day also featured a “Campus Bagless Day”, where VolShop and VolDining locations encouraged costumers to not take a plastic bag when they shopped to raise awareness of the over 2 million plastic bags used in the US every minute.

The following day, Saturday April 7th was the annual Sustainability Day of Service. Nearly 40 students came out to clean up Second Creek, which runs through campus. Through the help of the volunteers, an entire truck bed of litter was removed from the river.

The Environmental Leadership Awards were held on April 11th, where eight different awards were given to recognize different individuals and groups who demonstrated great environmental leadership in their everyday lives. To see the entire list of award winners, check out the post “Environmental Leadership Awards 2018“.

The following Saturday, April 14th, was the UT Gardens Work Day, where nearly 50 volunteers did various gardening practices in the Native American Interpretive Gardens on campus. This was the first volunteer collaboration between the UT Gardens and our office, and was such a success that there are already plans for more in the future.

Thursday, the 19th was the annual UT Earth Month Celebration, our biggest event of the year. Over 25 sustainability minded organizations from the surrounding area came to campus and engaged with students. The event also featured pop-up shops from the UT Recycling Free Store, Goodwill Industries, and Smokey’s Closet, as well as the UTOPS Mobile bike shop. Over 300 students participated in the passport program, and were awarded with sustainable items such as reusable grocery bags and tumblers. Earth Month Celebration also served as a volunteer opportunity, where students helped ensure it was a zero waste event.

The final event of the month was Arbor Day Celebration, where we held a ceremonial tree planting to celebrate the campus becoming a Tree Campus USA Certified Campus. Speakers included UT Arborist Sam Adams, Tennessee Forestry representative Darren Bailey, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculties Services Dave Irvin. Tree Campus USA is a national program created in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation to honor colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals.

To see images from all of the events listed in the article visit “UT Make Orange Green” for the full albums. With any questions about Earth Month in general contact

UT Designated Tree Campus USA

The Office of Sustainability and the Facilities Services Department capped off UT’s Earth Month Celebration with a ceremonial tree planting on Arbor Day.

A Sugar Maple was planted at the Engineering Quad to celebrate UT’s new designation as a certified Tree Campus USA university. UT is now the largest of eight universities in the state to hold this classification.

Tree Campus USA is a national program created in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation and sponsored by Toyota to honor colleges and universities for their effective campus forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals.

Ceremony presenters included UT Arborist Sam Adams, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Dave Irvin, and TN Forestry representative Darren Bailey. Adams, Irvin, and Bailey were joined by Cassidy Quistroff, a senior and president of the Society for Ecological Restoration, to plant the tree.

“I am really pleased that we are planting another tree, one of many that we plant each year,” said Irvin. “These trees represent what we are doing across campus to enhance our environment, enhance our lifestyle, enhance our air quality, and really change our community for the better.”

UT achieved the Tree Campus USA designation by meeting the organization’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and student service-learning projects.

“Achieving Tree Campus USA status represents another step in UT’s journey to become a more sustainability institution,” Adams said. “It’s another way we can set an example to our university community that we value a healthy campus and a healthy planet.”

Planting trees is a priority on campus and this year alone the university has added nearly 100 new trees.

Environmental Leadership Awards 2018


The Environmental Leadership Awards Dinner is an annual awards ceremony that stems from the Committee on the Campus Environment, managed and funded by the Office of Sustainability as one of the Earth Month Events. The awards recognize students, facility, staff, and community members that demonstrate exceptional Environmental Leadership in their everyday lives.

The first two awards recognize students who practice environmental excellence in academics and engagements. Michaela Humby was the 2018 recipient of the Student Academic Award and was praised for her leadership skills, as well as the initiative she takes in the classroom where she is determined to not only surpass her own accomplishments, but ensure her classmates can reach the same level of success.

Travis Livingston received the Student Engagement Award. As a Residence Assistance in Hess Hall, he is constantly looking for ways to involve his residents in sustainable initiative on campus and within his own residence hall. He was an integral part in having Hess Hall place third in the 2017 POWER Challenge.

The “Most Likely to Save the Planet” Award is given to a member of the UT community who has led, or was an integral part of an exceptional accomplishment at UT. The 2018 recipient was UT student, senior, Emily Kraeske. She is currently a member of the Student Environmental Initiatives committee (Green Fee), Director of the SGA Environmental and Sustainability Committee, and the Outreach Student Intern in the Office of Sustainability. She truly values environmental awareness and encourages everyone around her to do the same.

The following two awards were awarded to a faculty and staff member who demonstrate environmental leadership that goes above and beyond their job responsibilities.

Librarian Holly Dean was honored with the Faculty Environmental Leadership Award for her efforts in starting the seed library, which is a project for students to learn hands-on about sustainable gardening practices.

Faculties Services’ Bethany Morris was awarded the Staff Environmental Leadership Award, for her work to help implement the Campus Grow Lab, a campus – community garden coming to campus this summer. She was an integral part in making this project happen, helping to write the proposal, effectively collaborate with the administration, and providing her knowledgeable insight on the design of the garden.

The Community Member Environmental Leadership Award was given to AmeriCorps member Michaela Barnett. Serving as the Food Systems Coordinator for UT Recycling, Michaela has helped facilitate food donations from campus to local food banks and homeless shelters totaling over 13,000lbs. Michaela also brought back to life the campus community garden and was instrumental in its development, bringing together over ten stakeholders to ensure the program last well beyond her time here at UT.

The Food Recovery Network was awarded the Student Organization Environmental Leadership Award for the efforts during the 2017 football season. Group members helped recover nearly 8,000 pounds of food from Neyland Stadium after football games, often working late into the night to ensure the food could still be donated.

The final award of the night was the John Nolt Lifetime Achievement Award, given to a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated environmental leadership throughout their tenure and will leave a lasting impact on the university. Dr. Michael McKinney, head of the Geography Department, received the award this year for the impact he has made on every student he teaches and advises. He was an integral part in the creation of the Sustainability Major, the Committee on the Campus Environment, UT’s Climate Action Plan, as well as his ability to make anyone want to go green and love the planet.


In the above image: 

First Row, L to R: Bahar Meshkat (member of FRN), Emily Kraeske (Save the Planet Award), Michaela Humby (Student Academic Award), Bethany Morris (Staff Award), Holly Dean (Faculty Award), Carolyn Brown (Sustainability Outreach Coordinator), Christie Kennedy (CCE co-chair)

Second Row, L to R: Preston Jacobsen (Sustainability Manager), Bhavya Parikh (member of FRN), Michael Lin (member of FRN), Dr Michael McKinney (Lifetime Achievement Award), Travis Livingston (Student Engagement Award), Michaela Barnett (Community Member Award), Jay Price (CCE co-chair).

Sustainable Spring Cleaning

Spring time means we can finally do some of our favorite outdoor activities, such as gardening, hiking, and just enjoying the weather. However this also means it’s time for spring cleaning. Below are some tips for how to make your spring cleaning more sustainable.

  1. Donate any unwanted items. As you realize there is more and more to dust off you will probably want to get rid of a few (or a lot) of things. If it’s still in fine working condition, donate it! Here are a list of places in the Knoxville area where you can donate both furniture and clothing:
    • KARM
    • GoodWill
    • Free store (drop off at UT Recycling Public Drop Off)


  1. Get creative! If something is broken or outdated try to fix it before throwing it out. This could make for a fun project and a very satisfying reward of the before and after pictures. Check out an example below.

  1. Clean with green! Be sure to purchase the more environmentally friendly versions of the cleaner you’re buying. Want to know why these are better? Here’s why…
    • Typical cleaners have chemicals that can be extremely bad for the environment such as chlorine bleach and ammonia.
    • Eco products use citrus based solvents, vinegar and essential oils to clean


  1. Buy in bulk. Save packaging waste by purchasing things in bulk, rather than multiple individual packages.
    • Buy only what you need.
    • Take notes from year to year of what you need more of and what you bought too much of. Then the following year you can purchase effectively.


  1. If you really want to get “green to clean” make your own cleaner. Here’s how to do make some:
    • Combine liquid soap, lemon juice, borax and water to make a general cleaning spray
    • Combine baking soda and liquid soap for a tub-and-tile cleaner
    • Combine borax, washing soda and grated bar soap to make laundry detergent
    • For a full list of how to make any type of cleaner, check out the list here


  1. If you’re looking for new décor in your home look at house plants!
    • Not only are these aesthetically pleasing but they will also help filter the air in your home


  1. Since you’ll probably be doing a lot of laundry by washing all of your winter clothing to be placed in storage for the warmer months, be sure you do your laundry sustainable!



A More Sustainable New Year: Food


As you have probably heard by now, all month we are giving out different New Year’s Resolutions about how to make your lifestyle more environmentally friendly. Not only will that benefit the world around you, but generally help you live a healthier lifestyle as well. For 3, our theme is food! This will probably have the biggest impact on your lifestyle in terms of healthiness and helping the environment.
There are many different ways to reduce your environmental impact when it comes to food. The first one that I’m sure many have heard before, is giving up meat. There are many reasons to give up meat, from facts that giving up red meat is a better way to cut carbon emissions than giving up your car, and that it takes 1,847 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. These are very compelling facts, but asking everyone to give up meat is a lot to ask. Check out these other tips below:


1. Buy locally. Buying local foods is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact and live a healthier lifestyle.

  • Several food experts have said that the average plate of food can travel anywhere between 1300 and 1500 miles before reaching the table
  • A 10% shift of the produce to local use from one’s states farms would save 310,000 gallons of fuel on an annual basis, and would reduce CO2 by 7.3 million lbs.
  • Buying local will stimulate the local economy, reduce emissions from shipping, and let you enjoy the freshest food available!

2. Make a plan: Even by changing your eating habits once a week can make an impact. Also by starting simple, you can adjust as you move forward.

  • Try partaking in “Meatless Mondays”. Did you know some colleges don’t offer meat in the dining halls on Mondays?
  • Giving up red meat just once a week for year can save up to 331 kilograms of CO2 from the atmosphere, which is equivalent to not burning 36 gallons of gas
  • Make a commitment to going to the local farmers markets once a week when they are running
  • Try making at least one meal per week with all local ingredients

3. Eat seasonally: Ever think about how you can get tomatoes all year long in the grocery store, even though they only grow in our region from May to September? Tomatoes in the off season are imported from different parts of the world where they can grow, meaning lots of food miles to get that tomato to your plate in January. Know what foods are in season and stick to those. Check out more reasons why this is important:

  • In season foods taste better. Ever have a peach in February? It’s just not the same as one in the height of their summer season
  • Generally when food are in season farmers will grow more of them, therefore with more supply the prices will go down
  • More nutritional value. When foods have to be stored for a long time for transportation, they lose a lot of their nutrients along the way.
  • Supports your body’s natural needs. In the winter foods that are high in citrus are in season, which provide us with the vitamin C that we need more of in the winter, to help fight off colds and the flu. Whereas in the summer in season produce has more beta-carotenes which help protect against sun damage
  • You can still have local fruits and vegetables in the winter by preserving what you bought in season! Learn how to do this here
  • Check out this website to know what’s in season: Season Produce Guide

4. More additional tips:

  • Use less packaging
  • Waste less food, try doubling recipes which will save energy from not needing to cook as much
  • Compost food scrapes
  • Look for “Fair Trade” items
  • Buy organic
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables raw, to save energy from needing to cook them


As you can see, making your eating habits more sustainable is more about giving up meat. By combining a whole variety of practices you can realistically do, you will be able to reduce your carbon footprint.


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