Sculpture to Raise Awareness of Waste Generation, Management During Earth Week

ISTC’s efforts to help the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieve zero waste goals and foster a culture of waste reduction will include a unique public education display during Earth Week this spring.


Since 2010, the Urbana-Champaign campus has taken several major steps toward achieving zero waste. The 2015 Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) includes the goal of increasing diversion of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) from landfill to 45% by FY20, 60% by FY25, and 80% by FY35, while also increasing the total diversion rate to 90% by FY20 and 95% by FY25. Achieving these goals will require a decrease in the use of non-durable goods, and increases in reuse and recycling of materials.


As part of this continued effort, the University engaged the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) to conduct a campus-wide waste characterization study to better understand priorities and opportunities for waste reduction. ISTC, a unit of the Prairie Research Institute, created a methodology for waste stream characterization and evaluation that provides building-level performance measures and achievable recommendations for improvement. A waste stream characterization, aka a waste audit, involves taking the trash from a location, sorting it into categories, and measuring the amounts of each category present. It allows you to know how much paper, recyclable plastic, non-recyclable plastic, food, etc. are being put into the trash. With funding from UI Facilities and Services (F&S), ISTC began conducting waste audits of campus buildings in spring 2013, focusing first on the Henry Administration Building, Swanlund Administration Building, Alice Campbell Alumni Center, and the Illini Union Bookstore. The report summarizing results and recommendations from this initial phase of the project, published in September 2014, is available on the ISTC web site.


The second phase of the campus building characterization effort began in fall 2015, with funding from the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC). As before, this phase of the project included waste audits, conducted at Lincoln Avenue Residence Halls, Roger Adams Laboratory, the Business Instructional Facility, and the Illini Union. The report including the results of those audits and recommendations for waste reduction and improved diversion of materials from landfill is currently being finalized.


Nahid Akram and Hursh Hazari
Nahid Akram (left) and Hursh Hazari (right) are UI graduate students who designed and are building the waste sculpture.


This phase of the project includes a public engagement aspect. Graduate student hourly employees Nahid Akram and Hursh Hazari have worked with ISTC staff to design an educational sculpture made of waste materials. Nahid is working on his Master’s degree in Architecture, and Hursh is working his Master’s in Engineering in Energy Systems. Their sculpture will raise awareness of the magnitude of waste generated on campus and in the US, as well as options for waste reduction and responsible disposal. They have designed an I-shaped structure, which will be covered with 20 oz. plastic beverage bottles, fitted into a plastic mesh by screwing their caps on. This in turn will be attached to a wooden skeleton.

Artist rendering of skeleton and completed I-shaped bottle sculpture.
Artist rendering of wooden skeleton (left) and completed I-shaped sculpture with plastic bottles attached (right).


Bottles in mesh
Bottles attached to mesh by their caps in a similar project.


Plastics were chosen for the material used in the sculpture because of their durability, and the ease of working with and transport them, though compostable materials and paper actually are larger portions of the campus waste stream. Supplemental materials (e.g. a poster, video, and/or a digital handout accessible with a QR code) made available with the sculpture will explain the relative size of different categories of waste on campus, provide statistics to relate the number of bottles in the sculpture to waste generation (e.g. this represents the number of bottles disposed of in the US every X number of seconds), and information individuals can use to reduce waste while reusing and recycling more. The “I” shape of the sculpture not only is symbolic of Illinois, but also encourages the viewer to think “what can do to reduce waste?” and “what role do play in making our campus more sustainable?” Bottles with caps are being collected for use in the structure from the Waste Transfer Station, UI Housing Food Stores, ISTC, and other locations on campus.


The sculpture will make its debut at the Sonified Sustainability Festival on Saturday, April 16 from 1pm to 5pm at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. This free event, appropriate for all ages and also sponsored by the SSC, will bring together sustainability-minded musicians and artists. The event will also feature live music, information on community and campus programs (including ISTC’s Zero Waste Illinois and Illini Gadget Garage projects), and instruments made from recycled materials. See the event’s Facebook page for more information. The sculpture will remain on display in the Krannert Center lobby throughout Earth Week (until April 23rd).


For more information on the sculpture project, contact Joy Scrogum.