Meet Sarah Healey and learn how she makes recycling happen

What do you do at BU Sustainability, and what brought you here to BU?

I am the Zero Waste Manager here at BU. My job is to implement and manage the Zero Waste Plan, which is to have a Zero Waste campus by 2030. My day-to-day responsibilities include managing vendors, such as our trash and recycling pick-up company, the compost co-op we participate in, and many technology providers to help us sustainably divert our waste. In addition to that, I also oversee Zero Waste program development and implementation. Currently, we’re looking at increasing composting in more areas on campus and improving the waste infrastructure inside of buildings to capture more recycling. 

Before BU, I worked in the waste management industry, supporting colleges and universities, and I wanted to have more hands-on impact. That led me to look for opportunities within universities where I could have more of a direct impact on my systems, alongside the ultimate production and diversion of waste. 

What does Zero Waste by 2030 mean?

So, Zero Waste is a bit of a misnomer because it doesn’t mean we have no waste (that’s impossible because everybody generates waste). We at BU and other colleges and universities use the TRUE definition of Zero Waste — 90% diversion of waste from landfills, incinerators, or the environment. So, in practice, we are identifying ways to increase our recycling and composting rates on campus, making access to bins easier for people, all the way down to increasing the number of water bottle filling stations on campus.   

What is one thing about Zero Waste that you want people to know?

One thing I want people to know about Zero Waste is that there’s so much more nuance than people realize.  The underlying system of waste is often invisible. My hope is that our Zero Waste work here at BU will allow people to see that more. So, one of the things that I like to do is lift that level of nuance out from under the shadows and bring it to the forefront of what people see – and in turn, make better decisions. For example, we go on social media and see someone talking about straws or someone talking about plastic on a national or global scale, and that is important, but in the actual day-to-day implementation, there is lots of variation from where you live to who picks up your trash, recycling, or compost.

What three things can students, faculty, and staff members do to help us achieve this goal?

1) To achieve this goal, it’s going to take a huge cultural change on campus, and that starts with being willing to ask questions when you don’t know the answer. When throwing away recyclables, food waste, and trash, people can sometimes get confused when approaching bins. It’s okay. It is confusing because, returning to my comment on nuance, how we throw out certain items varies based on where you live. So as a first step, I strongly encourage students, faculty, and staff to educate themselves on waste, engage with the sustainability team here at BU, and not be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know what to do. I’ll also add that you can always check out our partner and their “Recyclopedia.” 

2) When it comes to changing a behavior, a big thing we see on campus is coffee and single-use cups. Instead of that Dunkin’ or Starbucks cup, you can bring a reusable mug or tumbler with you. Coffee cups are a massive challenge because hot coffee cups are not recyclable in Massachusetts, and iced coffee cups are only recyclable when cleaned out, have the lid back on, and have no straw. So, adapting to a reusable coffee mug mindset can help us reduce the amount of waste we generate on campus.   

3) Lastly, participating in compost programs can provide a big benefit in achieving our Zero Waste goals. Currently, we don’t have compost all over campus, but if you go to traditional dining halls, the GSU, or other dining facilities on campus, we have compost in the kitchens, the dish carousels, or next to the recycling and trash bins. Diverting food waste from trash makes a massive impact on our waste portfolio.

What are some things that BU is doing on a bigger level to help us get to Zero Waste?

So on a bigger level, we’re really focused on campus infrastructure that allows us to divert waste from landfills and incinerators. We are in the process of upgrading outdated infrastructure to ensure that there’s recycling everywhere on campus and that we have signage that accurately reflects what people need to do to divert their waste.

So how do we see this come to life at BU?

What that will look like is when you walk into any building on campus, you will see the same trash, recycling, and compost bins, with the same signage and similar setup. With a place as big as BU, that’s quite the undertaking! We want there to be consistency across campus — so that whether you’re at home, work, or school, you’re seeing the same thing and know almost subconsciously what item to put in what bin. This will make participating in recycling, composting, and diverting waste from landfills and incinerators easier. It helps us get to Zero Waste and, most importantly, helps our planet.

Thank you, Sarah!