By Kaitlin Zitelli
Sonoma State University
Zitelli works as a student assistant in the SSU University Affairs office. Below is her profile of a peer – originally posted on Sonoma State’s News Center.
Less than five minutes into talking about compostable eating utensils with Diedre Tubb, the SSU senior jumps up and walks purposefully toward the dining hall. It is closed for business, but that doesn’t stop her.
Diedre continues talking about the new composting program she has helped launch on campus as she walks around the Zinfandel cafeteria. To fully explain just what she means, she incorporates a lot of visuals, whether they be picking up the actual compostable utensils she is talking about or using her hands and facial expressions.
This is largely due to the fact that Diedre is deaf, with almost no hearing ability. But that hasn’t stopped the Environmental Studies and Planning student from accomplishing more on campus during her last semester than most students do in four years.
Signing the names of certain items as she speaks, she seamlessly informs while at the same time asking very pertinent questions. It’s as if her brain is ten steps ahead of the average person’s.
Diedre didn’t really have an educational focus until she took a class on natural resource management at SRJC, which she attended before transferring to SSU in the fall of 2010.
“It really opened my eyes to the waste management problems we have, especially here in California. Do you know it takes 22 lbs. of resources (water, soil, fertilizer) in order to make 1 lb. of food?” she asks.
Again, her effortless presentation of information is fascinating.
“I just wish it didn’t take me so long to get involved in this field,” she said. It’s a field she clearly has a passion for, and her passion is contagious. She makes you want to jump up and start.
Tubb is interning during her final semester at SSU for Lisa Andresen, the director of Dining Services, as a Sustainability Ambassador. Together, the two have created a year-long pilot compost project entitled ‘Scrap Your Waste’ under the campus wide tagline of ‘Compost Happens,’ that launched in Zinfandel Dining Hall early February.
Andresen already had take-out containers and utensils made of corn and soy products that are compostable (although the plastic wrappers the utensils come in ironically are not) available for student use in the dining hall.
Tubb wanted to take this one step further and have a compost bin available in the dining hall for students to put the compostable containers and food scraps into in addition to the trash and recycling bins.
Housekeeping and Facilities management on campus really made it possible for Dining Services to move forward with this pilot project. They signed Zinfandel Dining Services and Residential Life up with North Bay Corporation, the company that handles waste management for Sonoma County, and hauls the waste twice a week to Carneros Ranch in Petaluma where it is then transformed into compost.
“Worms!” she says, her eyes practically glittering. “If conditions are right, with no vibrations and completely in darkness, worms will break down the food and their castings are what makes up the richness of a finished compost.”
Diedre crosses her fingers as she explains that if things go her way, the compost will then be hauled back here and used on campus to complete a full cycle. Even though this may not be possible at this time, for the university to even be participating in this pilot program is exceptional.
But for the time being, Diedre is focusing on how to make the students part of the composting process. Although it is largely the job of dining services employees to make sure all waste goes into the proper bin, ‘Scrap Your Waste’ cannot be successful without student participation.
Diedre is extremely conscious of good communication and wants to make sure that the students who use Zinfandel Dining Hall don’t feel pressured when using the new bins. She is attempting to have a person stand next to each bin to help students know where to put their scraps but worries this might not go over very well.
“I don’t want them to feel judged, I just want them to know we’re just here to help. But if it’s not done in the right way, students won’t want to participate,” she says.
Although she is graduating in spring she promises to check back in next semester to see how ‘Scrap Your Waste’ is going. She hopes what she has had time to do here will have made a difference. If she wasn’t graduating, Diedre would like to rid the campus of all plastic water bottles.
“I always hear people say, ‘SSU uses so many sustainable practices. But do we really?” she says. “Chico State, UC Santa Cruz, and San Francisco State all have compost. We are behind, however, what we have going on now is happily happening.”
Maybe according to Tubb’s standards, but SSU has proven it is making strides to be even more ‘green’. Take the launch of the paper bag campaign this month for instance. The bookstore and all on-campus dining services will begin exclusively carrying paper bags that are 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable.
Diedre aspires to be a community educator for waste management in the future. “But the approach I want to use doesn’t really exist yet. I have to be creative,” she says.
She especially wants to get the general public more aware of the presence of the deaf community, and make information more accessible to them.
At the moment, she is working to incorporate sign language into all of the events regarding the compost program.
Through the Sustainable Future Fund, an endowment established through a generous gift from SSU alumna Janet Siela (Management, M.A. ‘80), Diedre received a $500 cash award for her work on this project.
As Dr. I. King Jordan, former President of Gallaudet University said, “Deaf people can do anything but hear.” Diedre is well on her way to proving this to be true.