NYU offers a wide range of on-campus jobs for students, from office assistant to IT tech. But Lily Kunkel has a campus job you may not have heard of: they are the waste education coordinator, working with the NYU Office of Sustainability to develop communications and programming around student waste education, awareness, and reduction. “This position has expanded the way I think about and approach waste. It’s such a nuanced and complex topic,” Lily, who uses they and she pronouns, explains. “But anyone can get involved. By really valuing the items you own, thinking consciously before buying anything, and getting creative with what you already have, you can reduce a ton of your waste!”

Getting Started on Waste Reduction

After a friend introduced them to the Office of Sustainability’s Sustainablog, Lily kept an eye out for sustainability-related student jobs. She’s a Biology major on the ecology track, with a minor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies “Before this, my experience was more research-based and scientific rather than policy-focused,” they explain. “Being the waste education coordinator is more of an ‘inside look’ at sustainability goals and concepts.” Day to day, Lily plans events, manages social media content, and serves as a liaison with student government, residential life, and various clubs. “I do a lot of organization and planning—which is great because I love to plan and organize!” she adds.

A person holding a reusable water bottle with stickers on it
Cutting Waste Across Campus

In addition to employing a waste education coordinator, NYU minimizes waste through a variety of solutions. First, the University’s waste collection services emphasize recycling, composting, and e-waste. Additionally, explains Lily, the school reduces waste in a number of “invisible ways.” For example, NYU has a cogeneration plant to take strain off the local grid by utilizing heat waste from electricity production. It has also tackled waste reduction through upstream solutions like getting rid of single-use water bottles on campus. Plus, they’ve been working on “creative solutions” to compost accessibility. “It’s a big buzz topic on campus right now,” says Lily. “Hopefully, people will hear more from me in the coming months about this!” In the meantime, students can find NYC compost drop-off sites near residence halls through this interactive map Lily put together.

Then, there are a variety of regular NYU events focused on reducing waste. “My favorite part of the job is putting on programs. I love to create events that I also want to attend,” Lily explains. In the fall, Lily’s work largely centered around Waste Week. This week-long series features diverse waste-related programs aimed at understanding and reducing waste on a variety of levels. Last year’s Waste Week included panel discussions, trivia, and a workshop on how to mend and repair worn clothing.

Produce in a reusable shopping bag
What You Can Do

Students looking to increase their involvement and reduce their waste can sign up for the Office of Sustainability’s newsletter and attend a range of events. In addition, there are a variety of NYU classes centered around sustainability and waste education. For instance, in Ecological Field Methods, students tour a compost processing facility on Governors Island and survey microplastics in New York waterways. Finally, students can do their part on a daily basis to effect change.

“It’s a privilege to be able to rebuy items or treat things like they’re disposable, so becoming aware of your privilege and attitude when it comes to waste is key in reducing it,” Lily concludes. “While zero-waste lifestyles often encourage you to invest in numerous aesthetic products, mindful consumption doesn’t cost anything. I will say, however, that I use my bamboo silverware set all the time—the little carabiner makes it so convenient!”