Mac Gavin ’24 and Heyward McPhail ’23 are gaining special insight into the Wofford College campus by sorting through the trash.

Gavin and McPhail are interning with the college’s facilities department. They’re getting a sense of what buildings and residence halls have robust recycling efforts while paying closer attention to where recycling and trash collection receptacles are located and how each is labeled. The work is supporting campus initiatives to make the college more environmentally sustainable.

“The work we’re doing here is groundwork for a solution,” says McPhail, an environmental studies major from Spartanburg. “How do we start chipping away at this issue and build upon it.”

Wofford recently completed the Campus Race to Zero Waste competition organized by the National Wildlife Federation. The contest had 116 colleges and universities participating, and Wofford finished No. 8 overall in the Food Organics Analysis. The college is No. 1 in the category based on the size of the campus community and among the four institutions from South Carolina competing. Wofford is No. 28 overall in the Per Capita Classic and No. 9 based on the campus’ size. It’s second in the state in the Per Capita Classic. Final reports for the competition will be posted later this month.

“The campus is steadily making progress in these areas and the amount of waste that we have diverted from landfills has more than doubled since 2016,” says Rick Shehan, office manager in Wofford’s facilities department.

Since 2015, students, staff, faculty and the college’s culinary partner, AVI Foodsystems, have participated on committees focused on sustainability.

“It’s exciting that Wofford has cultivated a willingness to strive to be a zero-waste campus,” says Amy Telligman, assistant professor of environmental studies. “We can build from this momentum to reduce our campus waste footprint.”

Telligman has brought her Introduction to Sustainability Science students to facilities to watch McPhail sort through bags to ensure items in clear bags for recycling are indeed in the right place or whether items in trash bags could be recycled. The class focuses on the relationships between complex social and environmental systems. She describes the campus as being a living lab that can exhibit how the college defines sustainability and how it’s measured.

Rick Shehan, office manager in Wofford’s facilities department, says the campus usually averages 76% of items placed in recycling containers being appropriately deposited. Fifty percent of items in trash cans are often able to be diverted from landfills to recycling facilities.

Gavin and McPhail have interned with facilities since March. They’re helping two facilities staff members, Emanuel Burnside and Ivan Yevchev, who often sort through bags. McPhail and Gavin both talk about this work with friends. McPhail says some of his friends have started telling people in Burwell Dining Hall where to place their food waste. Gavin has talked with friends about the need for more recycling bins on campus.

“Sometimes it becomes a bigger conversation about recycling in general,” says Gavin, a double major in psychology and sociology and anthropology from Lincolnton, North Carolina.

Keith Tyger, director of operations at Wofford for AVI Foodsystems, appreciates the partnership opportunities.

“Working with others on campus is key to effectively running a program,” Tyger says. “I can gather all of the compost I want, but I still need help from facilities to properly store and recycle it. Facilities also provides us with cardboard recycling bins and compost containers. The opinions and insight from others on campus give us a fresh look at our program and ideas on improvements.”

Tyger says AVI is working to eliminate the use of Styrofoam in Burwell and at the Galleria.

The college is in the process of searching for a director of sustainability who’ll provide leadership in the development, implementation, evaluation and improvement of sustainability efforts across campus. Telligman also is working with a diverse team on a campus master plan for sustainability that’s focused on waste and academic sustainability.

“You want to have as many stakeholders as possible to have a more robust plan,” Telligman says.