The brains behind the bins

By Liam Bond

We’ve all seen those iconic American University trash bins, multi-colored with the guidelines for what to throw away or not throw away, compost or recycle, printed right on the side. Those bins are part of the larger AU effort to strive for zero waste. Behind the zero waste policies and practices is the Student Zero Waste Club and their co-president, Grace Pugh.

Since first arriving at AU, Pugh has always been somewhat of an activist, and her course work has reflected just that. A junior from Dalton, Massachusetts, majoring in Environmental Studies and double minoring in Environmental Science and Public Health, her path towards leading the student zero waste charge began early during her freshman year.

“So I got involved because my freshman year I was in a University College class called Sustainable Earth,” Pugh said. “My TA at the time was the president of the [Student Zero Waste] club, and she kind of got us all involved.”

Pugh became secretary of the e-board her freshman year, and continued to move up within the club. Later on, she was the social media and marketing chair, before assuming her role as co-president.

Pugh and the group now focus on working with the AU administration through Tyler Orton, head of the Zero Waste Office and the zero waste manager for the entire campus.

“Some of our major projects is Project Move Out and Project Move In,” Pugh said. “We take a bunch of things that people would typically throw out at the end of the year, we collect it, we store it, and then in the fall, we resell it as a fundraiser for our club.”

Pugh described other projects that the Zero Waste Club has been working on, including integrating compost bins into student dorm rooms.

“People can opt in to have a compost bin for their own room, for free, and bring that to the compost bins in their hall,” Pugh said. “This will make the composting process a lot easier for students as well as hopefully it will decrease the amount of contamination that we see in the compost bins.”

These projects that the Student Zero Waste Club are working on are a part of a larger effort to make AU zero waste friendly. The Office of Sustainability implemented a Zero Waste Policy in the fall of 2015, with the purpose to “protect and restore our environment by managing material flows through the university and manage waste/recycling processes.” The Zero Waste Office hopes to implement this policy by eventually “sending zero waste to landfills and incinerators as regional infrastructure and technology allows.”

The policy also goes into detail about what the university should do with different types of waste, including ongoing consumables, durable goods and construction and demolition debris.

Besides acting as the co-president of the Student Zero Waste Club, Pugh also works directly with Orton and the Zero Waste Office. She said that both her role as the co-president and her job working directly with the Zero Waste Office balances very well.

However, before working directly with the Zero Waste Office, Pugh interned at Horace Mann Elementary School.

“[I worked] with their farm and garden program, working in the gardens and working with the students in the gardens, bringing that to a farm to table program during lunch for them,” Pugh said.

Her internship with Horace Mann Elementary School tied in directly with her future career goals, and how she hopes to combine her studies at AU.

“My dream is to work at the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture),” Pugh said. “I would love to work on nutrition policy, which is how my environmental science and public health kind of comes together,” Pugh said. “I’d love to work at a policy level, but I could also work at a non-profit level.”

Outside of all of her work with the Student Zero Waste Club and the Zero Waste Office, Pugh will fill the rest of her time hosting a radio show called “Thanks Mom,” a project that she is more than excited for.


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