The Facilities Services Office of Sustainability connected with Senior Supervising Custodian Sharon Cunningham to learn more about her role in supporting a Green Campus. Sharon has worked at SDSU for more than 35 years. During her time at the university, her team has been the one to implement the recycling program and the one to put hands in the trash to sort when students forget. In speaking with Sharon, we are reminded of the behind the scenes responsibilities custodial services and all of Facilities Services hold with regard to sustainability.
Although the campus population has been reduced due to stay at home orders, the responsibilities of the custodians, a team also impacted by health restrictions, have not lessened. Summer is normally the time when Custodial Services completes critical project work including floor repair and deep cleaning. With COVID-19 custodians are completing enhanced cleaning and sanitation which further depletes their ability to complete the normal summer efforts. There may be less generated trash to sort and retrieve because of fewer personnel on campus, but essential personnel and researchers are on campus and “there is still so many things to get done before students get here [in the fall]”.
Sharon oversees a team of 54 employees, almost half of the full SDSU Custodial Services
team. Custodial Services, like all of Facilities Services, supports student sustainability
programs and initiatives including the campus recycling program and exploring green
cleaning products. In a typical year, Facilities Services supports approximately 175
campus events including commencement, Explore SDSU, athletic events, conferences
and camps. “Our efforts include cleaning, set-up, supplying power for sound and lighting,
tear down, and trash removal.” Working at a campus the size of SDSU keeps the team
busy as they adapt to changing priorities. Sharon explains, “every day is something
new. We never come to work thinking we will be doing the same thing as yesterday.
We are on a 24-hour campus. There is always something going on that we need to shift
around to address”.
There is a strong partnership between Facilities Services and the Students to increase waste diversion rates. The Facilities Services Grounds and Custodial teams often catch when trash goes in the wrong bin (and of course remove trash that didn’t make it to a trash bin) - sorting it themselves to correct the problem. Grounds is responsible for trash removal at outdoor venues while Custodial handles trash inside buildings. Sharon enjoys the student engagement and recognizes the importance of the partnership for a successful waste diversion program. “Because our students pay close attention and ask questions, our diversion rates are improving and there are far less mistakes on which bin to use”. There is more to be done around reducing waste on campus and we as a community can do better in this regard. But, Sharon remains optimistic and positive about our efforts and potential to do even better, “we love to see students engaging in sustainability and caring about our campus”.
The Office of Sustainability is actively engaged in discussions to initiate new reusable container and composting programs to further reduce trash on campus. In speaking with Sharon we learned that there is a lot of trash left by students and visitors on the ground around campus particularly near the library. We can all help Sharon and her team by cleaning up after ourselves and putting things in the right bin.
Message to Pass On
It is easy to get discouraged when you hear about the obstacles with the China Sword Policy and the poor national diversion rates. However, at SDSU we can focus locally and move the needle in the positive direction. Momentum to solve the obstacles to a successful recycling (and future zero waste) program starts right here on campus by our community showing we care about where our waste goes. “Keep staying strong, it's going to help all of us. Sustainability is the way of the future. If you haven’t already, jump on the ship to keep it going”. Even though the custodial team has a large workload, increasing responsibilities and staffing levels are not where Sharon hopes they could be, Sharon’s last remark was “I love what I do and I love being part of Facilities Services at SDSU”.
The success of the recycling program relies on Custodial Services. But, we can help. We need SDSU students, faculty, staff and visitors to separate our waste correctly so custodians can focus on keeping the campus clean and safe for everyone. Next time you are on campus or anywhere, thank the custodians and pass on these waste tips that make the system more efficient and the workers’ lives easier.