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CCU Atheneum: Marissa Mitzner, CCU's sustainability coordinator
Marissa Mitzner, CCU's sustainability coordinator

How green is your campus?

by Corrie Lee Lacey
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As a child, she hated throwing things away; instead, she found a way to reuse almost everything, washing out shampoo bottles and recycling accounting reel paper. She put out bins in high school and encouraged her fellow students to recycle. She read “The Better World Handbook” like a Bible. And now, as Coastal Carolina University’s first sustainability coordinator, Marissa Mitzner is making a difference in how this institution recycles.

Mitzner orchestrated the University’s first move-in day recycling event in 2008, which diverted about three tons of cardboard from the landfill. Last fall when 700 new mattresses were delivered to the University’s residence halls, Mitzner help to organize a zero waste event. The used mattresses were picked up by Ohio Mattress Recovery, a company that will recycle about 94 percent of each mattress. The plastic packaging on each mattress was picked up by Recyclogic of Murrells Inlet and sent to a plant in Hemingway where the plastic was recycled.

Before graduating from CCU in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, Mitzner, of Charleston, W.Va., got involved in CCU’s Sustainability Initiative. Founded in 2005 and led by marine science professor Dan Abel, the initiative is designed to make environmental stewardship a campuswide priority.

A self-proclaimed “RA” (recycling addict), Mitzner was a charter “Eco-Rep”- one of a group of stipend students who raise awareness about environmental issues and encourage environmentally responsible behavior of campus residents. She began coordinating the program when she was a junior.

“Recycling is a gateway drug,” said Mitzner. “I started with recycling and branched out from there. It’s easy, and everyone can do it.”

After accepting the position of CCU’s first sustainability coordinator in 2008, Mitzner set her mind on a number of goals.

She hopes to implement a bike program, which will encourage students to choose biking as their mode of transportation instead of vehicles. The proposal has been written but hasn’t been finalized.

Marissa and the Eco-Reps are working on the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), a proposal they are hoping to have signed by President Dave DeCenzo on April 22, Earth Day. His signature will signify Coastal’s commitment to becoming “climate neutral.”

Mitzner also hopes to conduct a Green House Gas (GHG) inventory, which will identify CCU’s carbon footprint (the amount of CO2 gasses Coastal releases into the atmosphere). According to Mitzner, if Coastal can identify its footprint, it can begin to offset the amount of CO2 by implementing procedures and policies to become more climate neutral and truly be a more sustainable campus.

Mitzner admits the more she learns about recycling, the more challenging her job becomes.

“Whenever I get down, I just remind myself that I’m not trying to make the world perfect, just better,” said Mitzner. Despite the struggles, she feels strongly that one person can make a difference.

“Even if I only reach one person,” said Mitzner, “That one person is a difference.”

And Mitzner must be reaching people. Since her involvement began in 2005, there has been a significant increase in students’ commitment to the recycling efforts on campus. In addition to Eco-Reps, there is the Green Team—student workers who help with recycling pick-ups, game day recycling and other environmental activities on campus.

“I’m so excited that students are getting involved,” said Mitzner. “I’m not sure if it’s my efforts or maybe more that a ‘green culture’ is now hitting CCU, but there is definitely improvement on this campus.”

Although Mitzner sees improvement, she feels CCU must implement an educational program for recycling to be really effective.

“We’re still finding trash in the recycling bins,” said Mitzner. “But I think it’s because students think some material is recyclable when it isn’t.”

Although CCU has come a long way toward achieving a greener campus, Mitzner doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. When she’s not rallying for more improvements or planning another project, you’ll see her biking to school or picking up trash as she passes through campus.

“I truly am an addict,” said Mitzner. “How can you not have a passion for the environment? We must learn to interact with the world without doing damage. That is my pledge, and that is my purpose.”

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