Sigma Chi pioneers recycling initiative

By Sarah Yaacoub, The Daily Trojan; photo via Instagram @sigmachiusc

When Undergraduate Student Government Director of Sustainability Affairs Isabella Caltabiano took office this semester, one of her goals was to keep the Greek community aligned with the rest of the University in terms of progress toward achieving campus-wide sustainability. 

This semester, she began talks with Greek organizations and, with help from Environmental Student Assembly ambassador Julia Orozco and USG Assistant Director of Sustainability Laura Pearson, launched two initiatives to reduce waste within USC’s 25 fraternity and sorority chapters.

To get recycling bins into the fraternity houses, Caltabiano said she first reached out to fraternities individually and spoke with the respective fraternity member in charge of each organization’s budget. She and her team members have been visiting each fraternity to present recycling guidelines and distribute flyers.

“Only 9% of things … put in the recycling bin actually end up recycled, so it’s really important that everyone knows what to recycle so we can ensure that the most [waste items] can get recycled,” Orozco said.

The Sigma Chi fraternity was the first to implement recycling in its house, using $100 from its budget to purchase five bins from Home Depot. When the bins arrived at the house earlier this month, the fraternity placed them in the residential and dining areas and provided flyers to students clarifying what items can be recycled.

“We’ve been doing internally some sustainability stuff through Sigma Chi … trying to minimize our waste,” Sigma Chi housing manager David Kim said. “So when [Caltabiano] told me about this whole recycling initiative, [I said,] ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

Kim ordered the bins online, and within two days, they were delivered at the house and ready for use. Caltabiano said when she visited the house the day of the bins’ delivery, they had already begun to fill up.

“While this is supposed to be a whole-Row initiative — which it is going to be — it was really great that we had such a successful first house because it really takes that momentum to do so,” Caltabiano said.

Implementing the compost program has been more challenging, Caltabiano said. While LA Sanitation & Environment already provides certain recycling services at no additional charge, the organizations will have to cover the cost of compost collection. Caltabiano said installing compost bins and paying for the compost service would result in an increase in sorority dues of about $6 per member. Because many students are unfamiliar with the procedure for composting, she said there will be more outreach and educational sessions for sorority members.

“While we taught the guys how to recycle, most people really do know how to recycle,” Caltabiano said. “There are just more questions when it comes to composting, so there needs to be staff training. The staff [has] to sort of be watching and making sure that the compost is going to the compost.”

To implement composting in a sorority, the sorority chapter’s house corporation has to greenlight the measure and present it to Republic Services, which manages waste and waste diversion at USC, to draw up a contract. 

So far, Tri Delta has approved the compost proposal and plans to install the bins by Spring 2020, and Gamma Phi Beta will deliberate about the initiative at its next house corporation meeting. 

Orozco said composting is particularly impactful for sororities because they can easily do so with the three in-house meals served each day, as well as waste from the Friday brunches that are open to the sisters’ families and invitees. 

“Instead of scraping the food [waste] into the trash, they would put the compostable food in the compost and then the food that can’t get composted into the trash,” Orozco said. “It’s something super easy that’ll take a few more seconds, and the girls seem pretty happy about that too because sustainability is important, especially in today’s climate change crisis.”

Caltabiano said the initiatives would integrate sustainable practices into the Greek community’s daily routines, making waste diversion easier and lessening the Row’s environmental footprint.

“There are a lot of good people in Greek life and, I think, people that are really excited to make this positive impact,” Caltabiano said. “No one really wants to be throwing away their food, no one wants to not be recycling — it is just sort of an afterthought.”