Marquette Steps into New Academic Year "Greener"

Aug 25, 2014

Kyle Whelton shows off reusable carryout food container system as Marquette technicians make the final connections.
Credit S Bence

Marquette University's Kyle Whelton is not only delighted to start his senior year; he helped spearhead  two new initiatives designed to reduce waste on campus.

If he knew the ancient expression, Whelton would agree that he is dressed to the nines: from his starched blue dress shirt, tie – tip clip to boot - topped with blue blazer, punctuated with a Marquette University label pin. He’s out to do his university proud and talk up Marquette’s commitment to the triple bottom line.

“We want to make sure that one, it is environmental friendly, is it sustainable going into the future, is it economically sustainable. Are we going to save over time? And is sustainable operationally," Whelton explains. "And OZZI is certainly one of those things.”

From a distance, OZZI looks like your run-of-the-mill vending machine. Au contraire! Whelton says – in so many words.

It is designed to suck in the reusable plastic carryout containers that each undergrad living in Marquette student housing received upon arrival. 

“What happens is the tray flips up, it goes inside there," Whelton says. "Now what’s smart about these machines is that there are two sensors in here. One says, 'I’m 75 percent full.' It sends a text message to the manager on duty that says ‘come and empty me’. The other message says ‘I’m 100 percent full, I can’t take any more containers, you have to come clean me out.' And each one holds, I think 250 empty containers.” 

He has anecdotal information indicating Marquette’s food service team is delighted, and the system hasn’t even been launched yet.

“When we put these machines in here, the custodian who works here during the afternoon was so excited, somebody told me she had tears in her eyes,” Whelton says.

He pulls out some preliminary calculations. “Given the day, she would pull out anywhere from 35 to sixty trash bags an hour filled with empty to-go containers, and they weren’t recyclable. Think about the number going into landfills,” Whelton says.

Part of his excitement comes from the fact that Whelton is among a group of students working on this idea since his freshman year.

“A lot of that was convincing the senate that is was worth the investment,” Whelton says. That’s Marquette’s student government body. It figures centrally in his life. Over the years, Whelton has worked his way up its ladder. Last spring, he was elected president.

“It’s a lot of money. $45,000 is no small chunk of change; that’s a year’s cost of attendance here at Marquette for one student. So you’ve got thirty-three students sitting there evaluating, is this good for my constituents? Do I believe in this? And so that quite a bit of time we were afraid we wouldn’t get it through; or if we did we would only get one machine and that wouldn’t be very successful,” Whelton says.

In the end, Whelton and his supporters prevailed. Student government purchase of two “reusable dining container” systems; Marquette came up with funding for a third – to cover multiple dining sites on campus.

Eleven new "refill your own water bottle" stations are scattered around campus.
Credit S Bence

Just steps away, Whelton shows me Marquette’s second green initiative being launched; a digital water dispenser unit freshly installed in the student union. Ten more – he says – have been hooked up in convenient locations throughout campus. 

“You set your bottle here, it fills it up and tells you exactly how many disposable water bottle you’ve helped eliminate from landfills by using our water bottles at this station. So since this has been installed 1,538 disposable plastic water bottles have been eliminated,” Whelton says.

As Marquette students moved into dorms this semester, a reusable food container and personal BPA-free water bottle awaited them. Whelton says student government reps will spread the conservation word and distribute 1500 more bottles around campus.

“It’s one of those things where we can put these out there and hope people use them, or we can give them the tools to use it and really see it grow. We’ve committed to this as an institution, students should have some skin in the game as well,” Whelton says.

Student government also passed a recommendation, he adds, that the university sign on to an environmental pledge.

“It is named for one of the saints who was extremely active in stewardship of the earth. And that’s one of the tenants of Jesuit pedagogue is to be wise stewards of mother earth’s resources. So as a Catholic Jesuit institution looking from perspective as well, how are we going to come together as students and live up to the mission we’ve embraced and I think this is a positive way to do that,” Whelton says.

Had university leaders been within earshot, they clearly would have awarded Whelton high marks.

Credit S Bence

As we head out of the Union, the Sheboygan native says it was the school’s political science program that attracted him. Whelton interned on Capitol Hill between his sophomore and junior years. But, as a incoming freshman, Whelton says he knew nothing else of the school – had never paid a visit. Upon arrival, he says Marquette felt like home.

Developing a sense of environmental stewardship, Whelton says, came naturally.

“Not only can we increase our sustainability, but our economic sustainability. It’s in incredible way to look at that and say we’re improving the quality of life for the entire environment in which we live, but also the future and progress of an institution that we love so much," Whelton says.

Whelton assures me his views couldn’t be more objective – he’s a practicing Lutheran. When he graduates, Whelton plans to move into public policy.

“There’s an incredible opportunity to help people on a grand scale in public service or public policy, and that’s my dream," Whelton says.

A plan that seems sustainable, no matter your political background.