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Kate Blyth works with Zero Waste

Award-winning Student Zero Waste Coordinator reflects on the impact of the program

Emily Delaney
March 21, 2017

Working at the heart of Ohio University’s Zero Waste Initiative for the past three years has been Senior Student Zero Waste Coordinator Kate Blyth.

The efforts of Ohio University’s Zero Waste Initiative, funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation, are led by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and are part of a collaboration with non-profit organization Rural Action. By definition, zero waste involves a 90 percent diversion of waste going to landfills by composting, recycling, and other methods. Having a passion for environmental sustainability, Kate jumped into the Zero Waste Initiative immediately upon arriving at Ohio University.

As a freshman, Blyth began working with a fourth-year student to develop the Green Event Program and Green Event Guide. This guide helps student organizations, colleges, departments and individuals use various campus and community resources to host sustainable events. Kate helps maintain the guide to raise awareness about resource conservation and to empower attendees to live more sustainably.

“It’s one of the most fully fleshed out and institutionalized programs at a college or university in the country,” Blyth said. The guide’s growth has drawn more students into the zero waste team. “After my freshmen year, I was originally the only student up until May of last year,” Blyth said. “We now have five other students [on the team].”

Among the guide’s tips to make campus events more eco-friendly:  using online invitations and event registration rather than printing information on paper or providing large water dispensers instead of individual bottles. 

In addition to keeping the guide current, Kate works with event planners seeking individual assistance. She organizes consultations so she can walk planners through various ways to improve the sustainability of specific aspects of their events.

The initial spark that ignited Kate’s love of environmental work came a few years before her involvement with the program. “I grew up on a farm in rural Athens County. When I was in high school, there was a proposed strip mine across the street from us,” Blyth recalled. She joined other community members in the local environmental group Save Our Rural Environment to oppose the strip mine.

Strip mining involves scraping away earth and rocks and removing plants to reach the coal near the surface. Strip mining can often result in water contamination due to rain washing disturbed topsoil into nearby streams. Save Our Rural Environment also was concerned about the coal trucks’ impact on traffic.

The Oxford Mining Co., the organization that originally requested the permit, eventually withdrew its application. While the coal company denied that the Athens County opposition led them to withdraw the permit, some residents believe it was likely that community pushback had some impact on the decision.

From that experience, Blyth considered environmental engineering or environmental law as possible paths for her future. At Ohio University, she discovered that the Environmental Geography program offered the broadest range of applicable skills. She is now preparing for graduation this spring with a degree in environmental geography, a minor in Spanish and a certificate in geographic information science. She hopes to find a job around Athens, preferably in the environmental field.

Because of her involvement with the Zero Waste Initiative, Blyth has had the opportunity to work with the Voinovich School, creating professional connections with students, faculty and staff. “There’s so much going on at the Voinovich School,” she said. “Just learning how to work with different people and different groups on a university campus and in a community that’s as diverse as Athens and Ohio University has been really beneficial.”

As a result of her dedication to environmental sustainability, Blyth will receive the Edwin L. Kennedy Leadership Award for Outstanding Community Service at the spring 2017 ceremony. This award, named in honor of Alumnus Edwin L. Kennedy, recognizes an individual for his or her lasting and selfless acts as both a leader and a servant to one’s community. 

Blyth has one final project on her agenda before graduation. She is organizing and managing Ohio University’s Reuse and Repair Fair on March 29.The event is a stop on the Patagonia Worn Wear College Tour and the clothing company will be performing free clothing repairs.

“For me, personally, it’s sort of like a capstone experience for event planning,” Blyth said. “But it also shows how well our program is doing, that we can be associated with a national business that is renowned for its sustainability efforts.”