Students in Sustainability: Exemplary Campus EcoRep

This week, GreenHawks Media will highlight some more of Miami’s own students with its ongoing Students in Sustainability series, allowing students to share their intellectual and co-curricular pursuits. For this installment, GreenHawks Media interviewed a stand-out campus EcoRep, Claire Hyder, about her work with the organization and elsewhere at Miami.


Hello! I’m Claire Hyder, a senior majoring in Biology, co-majoring in Pre-Medical Studies, and dual-minoring in Global Health Studies in the Anthropology Department and Ethics, Society, and Culture in the Philosophy Department. I am a laboratory assistant in the Biology Department as well as a member of the Zhao Lab, which studies genomics and epigenomics in corn and soybean. I am an alum of the Scholar Leader Program on campus. Finally, this is my fourth year serving on EcoReps’ Leadership Team, my favorite group of environment lovers and hippies on campus! 


Myself and two other reps, Piper and Lexi, helping with composting at the 2019 Oxford Community Picnic.


For people not too familiar with EcoReps, could you tell us a little bit about the organization and its presence on campus?

EcoReps are the advocates for sustainable living on campus! Because of our membership in each residence hall’s Community Leadership Team (CLT), we are able to make Miami a more green campus as a whole by reaching on-campus students through education and programming in the residence halls. We live out this mission through several long-standing initiatives. First, in every residence hall’s trash room, you can find EcoReps Specialty Recycling (see picture below). Rumpke, the waste removal company that Miami contracts through, will take many items for recycling; however, there are some things that Rumpke is just not able to recycle. EcoReps makes sure that residents are able to recycle some of these specialty items. Traditionally these items have included plastic bags (grocery bags, bread bags, produce bags, and even shrink wrap) that are taken to Kroger, batteries that are taken to Shideler Hall and ink cartridges which are collected by our advisor, Rob Abowitz, and taken to Office Max or the like. More recently, we have expanded the program to also accepted Solo cups or other brands of plastic cups and Brita filters. 


Specialty recycling bucket next to the conventional recycling bin. We take grocery bags, ink cartridges, batteries, Solo cups, and Brita filters in specialty recycling. 

Second, we complete biweekly Trash Audits each semester. This is a way for us to determine the extent to which students are throwing away recyclable items. We will select a quad of residence halls and ask the housing staff there to leave the trash from the day. We will then go in and weigh the trash, sort through it, remove any recyclable items and weigh these items. This allows us to find a percentage by weight of how much students threw away that could’ve actually been recycled. The Reps then report this number back to their residence halls and provide education about what is and is not recyclable. Additionally, we re-audit all residence halls in spring in order to track progress over the year, often rewarding halls that showed substantial improvement with pizza parties. 


Our Reps from Beechwoods Hall tackling a trash audit in Presidents Hall together! 

Third, each week we will send out EcoFacts to all residence halls as well as post the EcoFacts on the TVs in Armstrong Student Center. These are just brief infographics about unsustainable practices and how to switch to a more sustainable alternative. This semester alone, we sent out 149 EcoFacts to the residents hall listservs! 


Our final EcoFact of the semester! 

Fourth, each spring semester we reach out to groups on campus and in the greater Oxford community to donate to our Water Bottle Project. Founded about four years ago by a past EcoReps president, Erin Graves, the project aims to “Put a cap on disposable water bottles!” During trash audits, we were finding a lot of single use water bottles (Dasani, Figi, Kroger brand, you name it) in the trash. To try to combat this, we wanted to provide high-quality reusable water bottles and a message to reduce use of disposable water bottles to incoming students. This year we were able to give out a whopping 1,900 bottles to incoming students. We see these bottles all over campus. In fact, this year one girl asked me, “Can I get one of those? I don’t feel like a Miami student without one.” Like Bagel and Deli or Upham Arch, the bottles have become a Miami staple! This has been a huge testament to the change that can be made in campus culture through student initiatives. This change could never have been made without the generous donations of our water bottles sponsors listed on the bottles.


2018-19 Eco Reps bottle design.  


What recent EcoReps event or initiative that you’ve been involved with was the most impactful or particularly successful?

I have been especially touched by the change in both Oxford and Miami’s culture in regards to sustainability. First, at the beginning of the semester, Peabody’s Office of Resident’s Life (ORL) staff asked EcoReps to provide water bottles for their music festival. Instead of buying cases of disposable water bottles, they encouraged students to bring their own reusable bottles and provided coolers of water for them to refill with. For new students who did not have their own reusable bottles, EcoReps were at the ready to provide them with one. This event was so impactful because it showed that Miami’s staff had sustainable practices on their radar, that they cared enough to implement them, and that others were inspired to do something similar at future events. I would love to see all Residence Life and Miami Events transition to a commitment to such sustainable practices. Second, the City of Oxford recently launched a composting program and as a part of this, they asked EcoReps to help compost at the Oxford Community Picnic. Although this event was slightly outside of the residence hall mission of the organization, it was amazing that Oxford made such a commitment to sustainability and  asked our organization to be a part of it. 


What has been your favorite class here at Miami and why?

I am currently taking Philosophy of Disability. This class has opened my eyes to a whole new way of experiencing the medical-industrial complex. I once believed that diagnosis, treatment and cure were all positive things but have since learned the complexity of these phenomena. Diagnosis has been used to strip minorities of their rights (i.e. diagnosing slaves who ran away with Drapetomania), treatments are often unwanted (i.e. the resistance of the Deaf community to cochlear implants) and ‘cure’ often devalues the lives of those with disabilities. This class has given me perspectives that will allow me to better understand the experiences of my future patients and to be cautious of some normalized practices/beliefs in the medical community. 


What topics in sustainability and the environment interest you most?

I am most interested in ways in which I can use my purchasing power and other life choices to leverage change. After reading “A Diet For a Small Planet”, a book that looks at the social and environmental impacts of a meat based versus plant based diets, I committed to a largely plant based diet (although I will admit that I had some turkey over Thanksgiving). From dietary changes such as these to other lifestyle changes like switching to reusables or composting, everyday decisions can make an impact on the environment when compounded over a lifetime.


Where do you hope your Miami education will take you after graduation?

I am looking forward to attending medical school after graduation. I hope to get my MD or DO as well as a master’s degree in Public or Global Health. I look forward to doing local and global medical missions, advocacy work to increase access to healthcare and promoting transitions to more sustainable practices in the medical field.  


What advice do you have for students looking to make lifestyle choices on campus to reduce their environmental footprint?

An important mentality to use when making these changes: any small changes, when compounded over a lifetime, are impactful. Therefore, never believe that what you are doing doesn’t make a difference. Now, imagine if you could convince all your friends to adopt one of these lifestyle choices. The impact is now compounded over several people. Therefore, stay committed to living a sustainable lifestyle and convince others to do the same, and you will be making an impact.

  1. Use Miami’s Public Transportation: Miami’s busing system contributes a minute amount to the University’s carbon emissions, especially when considering the amount of miles that are driven each day on our busing route. The buses run whether two people are on them or fifteen. Therefore, take advantage of our busing system to ensure the are being used efficiently. 
  2. Eat at the buffets when you can: The dining halls allow you to get the most amount of food for the least amount of packaging. This is an easy zero waste lifestyle change to make on campus. 
  3. Take your notes electronically, use Quizlet & try to reduce printing: Everyone learns slightly differently, but if you can transition to learning mostly electronically (as opposed to with paper notes, note cards, and reading a physical copy of something) this is beneficial to the environment. You will be cutting back on the number of trees that need to be cut down to produce paper as well as the actual carbon emission needed to produce that paper. 
  4. Reduce your consumerism & buy secondhand: The production of products such as clothes or party/house decorations negatively impacts the environment. The by-products needed to make any item will have some toxic or harmful components. Therefore, try to not buy what you don’t need. If you are really in need of something, try to find it second hand. That way, you are not contributing to the pollution of producing new.  


What can we look forward to seeing from EcoReps next semester?

Oh my goodness, so much! First, we will be re-auditing residence halls throughout the semester and tracking their progress compared to fall. We will be also be fundraising for our Water Bottle Project, so expect to see us doing at least one bake sale Uptown. Additionally, we will be conducting several trail clean-ups once the weather has improved a little. Lastly, we are planning several small sustainability events in the residence halls and organizing several larger sustainability-related events. First, we will be handing out smoothies made on a smoothie bike and encouraging people to sign sustainability pledges as part of Oxford’s EarthFest. Leading up to Earth Day, we will be programming along with Miami’s other green organization as part of Earth Week. Finally, we will be helping with National Residence Hall Honorary’s (NRHH) Green Clean, a campus and Oxford wide trash pick-up. Finally, we will be rewarding ourselves after a year of hard work with our annual camping trip to Hueston Woods once we get back from spring break! 


All photos courtesy of Claire Hyder


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