All posts by marydiekmeier

Recycling is Still Important—Especially at MU

Reduction of recycling imports, lack of education, and consumerism are just a few of the issues that the recycling industry faces today. As we use more, we discard more, and though many people care about the state of the world and environmental issues, recycling in the US is not improving, leaving the future a little uncertain.

A recent article from the Missourian showed how much recycling and composting has been decreasing at Mizzou in the past few years. While some of this has to do with budget cuts, a lot of it has to do with recycling contamination from students. In truth, many people don’t know how to recycle correctly, and may not feel it is important for them to do so. When the wrong things are put into recycling bins, it causes problems in the recycling chain and the other perfectly recyclable items in the mix become unusable. When it comes down to it, recycling is an easy thing to do and the effort from just one person separating their waste correctly can make a huge difference.

The MU Sustainability Office has entered Mizzou into Recyclemania- an event to compare our school’s recycling with other schools around the country. Recyclables will be tracked until March 30th, so if you’re a Mizzou student, now is the perfect time to do your part and recycle correctly on campus as well as in your home!

A Handy Guide to Recycling

First of all, check with your local waste utilities. In Columbia, plastics #1-7 can all be recycled. However, that does not include Styrofoam or any filmy plastics like cling wrap, Ziploc bags, and grocery bags (those you can take to most Walmart stores to recycle!). Smaller items like utensils and lids can be a confusing addition to this. While many small plastic items can be recycled (look for the triangle!), they are often lost in the sorting process, so a good idea is to put those items in larger plastic containers, or reattach them to a bottle or cup whenever possible.

So, what about paper and cardboard items? Most of the work is breaking down cardboard boxes. Don’t worry about removing plastic windows from letters and tissue boxes, this is done for you by recycling facilities! Here’s where it gets more complicated: used tissues themselves are never recyclable, and same goes for paper towels. Coffee cups are lined with wax or plastic, so they also cannot be recycled. So, the lid from your morning Starbucks is technically recyclable, but the cup is not (always remember your reusable mug!).

One of the most important things to know about recycling is how to prepare your items. It’s rarely enough to just dump it without thinking. Food contamination is a major issue with recyclables, it’s the reason we have to rinse out peanut butter jars and that pizza boxes can’t be recycled (the tops of pizza boxes, however, usually fine!). It may be starting to sound like recycling is a lot of work, but just take it one item at a time. You may begin to realize just how much you’re consuming!

Apps for Food Waste Awareness

By Elizabeth Ustinov

While there is no one ideal solution to reduce food waste, this generation aims to combat the problem using technology, as demonstrated by (Tuft University 2016; US Fed News Science 2016). With the technological advances in smartphones and their apps, the transportation and ordering of food for consumers has been made relatively simple. Many restaurants and supermarkets now have apps that let customers browse and pre-order their items for pickup or delivery. To advocate for more environmentally-aware intentions, there have been apps created to increase food sustainability as well.


For example, FoodKeeper was designed to aid consumers in deciding if their purchased products are still safe to eat. It offers storage advice about 400 different kinds of foods and drinks (Tuft University 2016). Another app called Foodfully keeps record of food purchased logo-icon-iosby storing receipts, and then when the food is close to expiring, it will send a notification to the user along with a recipe for how to make use of the product before it is wasted. (US Fed News Service 2016) Lastly, the app Copia has recovered unused food from businesses and universities and ughhhhtransported it to nearby nonprofits (US Fed News Service 2016). All of these innovative apps are reducing the amount of food that goes into landfills and are an easy way to make consumers more aware of their waste habits.

A Message from MEAC

We, the members of Mizzou Energy Action Coalition (MEAC), have been leading a campaign for fossil fuel divestment at the University of Missouri for more than three years. In that time, we have gathered support from thousands of students and faculty, passed a divestment resolution through every Mizzou student government, and made our Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment in numerous meetings with the UM System Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer, and President Mun Choi. Our request is simple: UM System administration should rid our 1.4 billion dollar UM System Endowment of its $10 million in fossil fuel assets.

Let’s be clear. We are not requesting our budget-crunched University remove 10 million dollars from its Endowment to spend on green projects or infrastructure. We are asking administration to move the 10 million invested in some of the most polluting, carbon intensive companies to ever exist, to virtually any of the other profitable investment options on the market. We, like most major banks on Wall Street, think this is reasonable.

Unfortunately, University administration doesn’t agree. This past July we received a rejection letter from UM System President Choi stating that the UM System will not divest, despite the overwhelming scientific, economic, and moral evidence that contradicts this decision. In short, the administration’s refusal to divest from fossil fuel companies rests on four points, each of which we must reject as compatible with a truly sustainable future, and likewise as contradictory to our University’s alleged values.

Fossil fuels have contributed to rising living standards worldwide

Well, sure. Combustion engines were built and roads paved before any of us were born. But we would put our University education to shame if we weren’t able to think critically about the impacts of these luxuries. We know, from peer-reviewed research, that once combusted, the same fossil fuels that increased global standards of living yesterday will drown out millions of people, cities, and island states tomorrow. We know there are places, like Houston, Miami, and San Juan, that are feeling the devastating effects of fossil fuel use right now. To dismiss these harsh realities for convenience sake is not rising up to the standards of excellence we hold ourselves to here at Mizzou.

Only a few universities have divested so far

Let us not forget who we are, Mizzou. We were the first college West of the Mississippi, the home of the first School of Journalism, and host of the first ever homecoming. More recently, our University became nationally recognized for its installation of biomass boilers at our world-class combined heat and power plant. Why should our University decide now to relinquish its leadership position in the face of the global climate crisis?

Divestment is symbolic, has no real impact

It’s true, $10 million is a drop in the bucket to the fossil fuel industry. Thankfully, our University is not alone in the global fossil fuel divestment movement. More than 799 institutions across 76 countries, representing well over $5.2 trillion in assets have cleansed their portfolios of fossil fuel investments. Just in the last few months, Ireland’s parliament passed legislation to become the first country to divest its sovereign wealth from fossil fuels. Will UM add its small but important voice to the rising chorus? We have before. When the UM System divested its 75 million in assets from institutions supporting South African Apartheid in 1989, former UM President C. Peter Magrath said, “we should not do so because we arrogantly believe that what we do here can affect the course of events in the continuing tragedy in South Africa… We should do so because we believe… It is the right step and the correct signal for the University of Missouri to give in fulfilling our highest values and ideals.”

Fiduciary responsibility to invest in fossil fuels

The amount currently invested in fossil fuel industries represents less than one percent of our total UM System Endowment. So in true Missouri fashion, we say to President Choi, show us the numbers. Show us the fiscal sense in betting on the carbon bubble. Show us that those administering the endowment are doing right by holding on to these toxic assets. Show us how the University couldn’t possibly move this money to any of thousands of other companies available on the market. Show us that literally no other investment options exist that are as allegedly profitable as dirty carbon stocks. Or show us that, you too, feel bound by our collective principles of respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence and that no funds of ours should be used to prop-up companies whose mission is so contradictory to our own.

What we are asking for is simple. UM System administration should commit to move investments from fossil fuel companies, whose business model is set on permanently altering the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, to companies that can make a profit without climate catastrophe. After all, if the administration fails to divest, can it truly say that our University “advances the health, cultural, and social interests of the people of Missouri, the nation, and the world”?

You can our read our heavily researched Case for Divestment, the administration’s full response letter and our full critique of that response on our website at

Michael Borucke, Frankie Hawkins, Sean Donovan and Madeline Niemann are members of the Mizzou Energy Action Coalition.

***The Mizzou Energy Action Coalition is not a part of Sustain Mizzou and does not necessarily reflect our non-bipartisan views–however, we support other environmental groups and their fight for change.

Eight Terms on Sustainability

Written by: Jessica Yates

When speaking about environmental sustainability, a lot of terms get thrown around, and it’s not always entirely clear what those terms mean. Here are eight terms you might have come across and a little explanation to bring them into focus.

It’s almost always best to start at the beginning, so first, what is sustainability? (Excellent question! Cue the history lesson!) Early forms of the environmental movement accompanied the industrialization of Europe and can be seen in the work of Romantic artists like William Wordsworth as well as many Enlightenment philosophers. The strength and spread of this movement grew over time, but truly gained prominence in the late twentieth century. It was during this time period (1983, precisely) that the United Nations formed a committee called the World Commission on Environment and Development (or WCED). In 1987, the WCED provided a now widely accepted definition for sustainability: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This comes in three facets: economic, social, and environmental. Economic sustainability refers to the efficient and responsible use of resources to maintain the desired level of economic production. Social sustainability refers to a social organization’s (i.e. a country) ability to maintain social well-being. So what about environmental sustainability?

One of the first things to consider is environmental impact. This is a reflection of “any change to the environment, good or bad, that wholly or partially results from industrial/manufacturing activities, products or services” (Dupont). Similar to impact is footprint, which measures the absorption of raw materials or industrial by-products into the environment. The goal is to have as little a footprint as possible. (I’d hate to be Sasquatch in this day and age).

Another important consideration for sustainability is seen when we talk about food. How is it grown? Where does it come from? Where are the brussel sprouts? (That last question doesn’t really have much to do with sustainability… I just like brussel sprouts).

A prominent topic right now in the food industry is the merit of organic foods. By the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, organic certification guarantees no pesticides, no synthetic growth hormones, no petroleum-based fertilizers, and no cloning in both growth and processing of the food. Food producers that are certified organic must first be audited, accredited by a USDA-approved certifying agent, and reaccredited every five years (USDA source). This is required for any level of organic production and labelling. There are three ways you might have seen the organic label:

“100% Organic,” which means the product is (you guessed it) made with 100 percent organic ingredients,

“Organic,” which means the product is made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients

or “Made with Organic,” which means the product is at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Companies can also list individual ingredients as organic.

A notable benefit of organic agriculture is the absence of pesticides. This prevents water pollution, which affects the entirety of an ecosystem. The use of natural in place of synthetic fertilizers in addition to other soil-building practices promotes better soil nutrition and biodiversity.

Organic certification is markedly different from the natural label, which is not regulated by the USDA. “Natural” only suggests the aforementioned organic guidelines, and there is no guarantee those guidelines have been met.

Organic certification also indicates the complete absence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The name is essentially self-explanatory. GMOs are organisms in which the DNA sequence has been modified through non-natural methods. This is done to promote desirable qualities in the organism, such as faster growth or reproduction and resistance to insects or herbicide. The genetic resistance to insects actually reduces the use of pesticide on GMOs, which helps lessen the amount of pesticide that remains in the land and natural water sources. At the same time, resistance to herbicides may increase the amount of herbicide that is used, since the GMO is no longer under as much threat from that usage. The debate over GMOs goes much further, but long-term effects are unknown at the current time (Woah, this is heavy).

Another popular term related to food concerns where the food is grown. Locally grown means that the food is (surprise!) grown in a local area. However, there isn’t a definite numeric range for what distances constitute “local.” The interpretation varies. The point, however, is that the food you buy and eat is not coming from the global industrial food system, which has a negative environmental impact. Some of this impact comes from air and water pollution (from transportation as well as agricultural methods), more packaging, and overconsumption of fossil fuels.

Finally, we have a term I came across when making some hot tea recently. If you pick up a Lipton (decaffeinated) tea bag, you might notice the following line on the individual package: “This product is packed in a zero-landfill facility.” Of course, the idea isn’t that complex, but I was curious. Does this really mean zero? Maybe it’s more like 90 percent?

Western Michigan University defines zero waste-to-landfill as “the ability to avoid diverting any excess material resources in a landfill or other non-reclamation waste center.” It’s a somewhat wordy definition, but after further research, it was determined that zero actually means zero, albeit only in concern to the waste actually sent to landfills. Such facilities have a generous emphasis on recycling as well as composting. Remaining “waste” materials are sometimes incinerated, but reuse is also highly encouraged.

There are many different ways sustainability can be addressed and here are only a few of them. Every individual can find their own way to celebrate awareness of our environment. You don’t have to decide to only buy organic foods or only support zero-landfill facilities – it can be as simple as turning off the lights.

Sustainable Threads: Innovations in the Industry


The textile industry is–let’s face it–not the most sustainable. However, there are lots of companies out there trying to figure out ways to fix that problem. In this article, we’ll look at how the textile industry is making ecological innovations. First, let’s learn a little bit about textiles.

“Textiles” and “fabrics” are pretty much used interchangeably. They can be made from both natural and synthetic materials (called fibers). Most synthetic fibers are petroleum-based, meaning they’re made from non-renewable sources and require a lot of energy to make.

However, a fabric made from natural fibers is not necessarily a sustainable choice either. For example, cotton is a widely known and used natural fiber, but because the production process normally uses pesticides and extensive amounts of water, it is a much less sustainable choice.

So, when is a textile considered sustainable? It might help to think of the three Rs of environmental friendliness:

  • Reduce: Does the manufacturing company attempt to reduce the water, chemical, and air pollution that normally occurs during the manufacturing process?
  • Reuse: Is the textile in good enough condition to be used several times or even be made into something else during its use?
  • Recycle: Has it been made with recycled materials, or can it be recycled/biodegraded?

With these factors in mind, let’s delve into innovative ways the textile industry has developed to try and help solve its sustainability problem.

The company WeAreSpinDye is hoping to revolutionize the way synthetic fibers are produced by dyeing them early in the process (before they become yarns or fabric). This will reduce the negative environmental effects of the chemical dyes used for textiles.

A brand of hemp called Hardy Organic Hemp has innovated the production process by creating a fiber that is produced using zero pesticides, water, or chemicals, and is organically dyed.

Though we don’t usually think of carpet backing when we think of textiles, a company called Milliken revolutionized the backing on carpet tiles by finding a way to make them stick to your floor without the need for harmful glues and adhesives.

Climatex, an ecologically responsible German textile company, created the first 100% biodegradable fabric made of synthetic materials, all while maintaining extraordinary energy, water, and dye standards.

Another fabric called Sensuede is the first high-end microfiber suede fabric that is made completely from recycled polyester and is not produced using harmful solvents like many other synthetic suede fabrics.

One of the most interesting innovations being made in the textile industry is Crabyon fibers. These are made from “chitosan” (or “chitin”), a material actually derived from crab shells. These fibers produce textiles that are completely biodegradable, while also recycling waste from crab processing factories.

Did you know that when you clean an item made from a synthetic fiber (especially fleece) in a washing machine, it sheds a small amount of microfibers that end up in the water and pollute it? G-Star, a denim brand, recognized this issue and took action with their RAW for the Oceans denim line, the first to be made from recycled plastic found in the ocean.

Patagonia, a leader in producing apparel with recycled materials, is the first brand in the US to incorporate into their products an innovative TENCEL (lyocell) fiber that is made of waste from cotton fabrics.

Though there is still lots of work left to do in the industry, you can see that the work of these textile and apparel companies creates new, sustainable ways to make fibers which not only reduce negative environmental effects, but cause positive ones. Check out the links and learn more; get involved with sustainable clothing! When consumers are excited to have eco-friendly clothes, apparel companies will pay attention, and this could be the start of some big changes in this field. The textile industry is always learning how to become a more eco-friendly industry, one that is fit for our changing world.