Ella Clee ’19 is a work-study employee with the <a href="https://www.coa.edu/about/environmental-commitment/waste-management/" target="_blank">Discarded Resources</a> team at College of the Atlantic.Ella Clee ’19 is a work-study employee with the Discarded Resources team at College of the Atlantic. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20Many of us know very little about where the materials we recycle or throw away end up. For Ella Clee ’19, this sort of knowledge has become a way of life.

Clee works with “away” materials on a daily basis, and, as a work-study student with COA’s Discarded Resources (DR) crew, she is heavily involved in the process of reducing waste at College of the Atlantic.

Since 2013, COA has transformed every reference to “waste” to “discarded resources,” and Clee has been at the center of those efforts for the past two years, helping to implement ways in which members of the student body, faculty, and staff can more effectively gather, reuse, dispose, and recycle.

Clee focuses on minimizing and collecting COA’s discarded resources. Paper, #2 plastics, cardboard, aluminum, glass, redeemable bottles and cans, and food scraps all can have a second life through compost or recycling.

Clee started with DR work-study in her first year, and has continued into her second year, even staying in Bar Harbor to work last spring break and summer. Working with DR was not her first choice. At first, she pictured herself working at what she saw as a more social type of job. While DR isn’t exactly like working in the dining hall, Clee discovered that is does put her in touch with much of the community, and she has come to enjoy the mission-driven quality of the work.

“Before I got to COA, I wanted to work in TAB (Take-a-Break, the COA dining hall) or the Library, because my friends said that those are the places that everyone comes through,” she said. “Working with Discarded Resources, it’s the same thing in a way, it touches every part of the college. Whether that’s arts, sciences, admissions, student life, or even the people working in Turrets, it reaches every aspect of the school.”

Right now Clee is part of running COA’s third Discarded Resources Audit. This means collecting a week’s worth of COA’s discarded resources in order to give the community a clear visual of how much is wasted, as well as to gain information on how the community could improve.

Her hope is that visualizing the discarded resources will help pass the proposed Zero Waste Policy at COA. The new policy has a broad scope, implementing zero waste principles to COA’s on and off campus activities, infrastructure, and operations. The final goal is to divert 90% of discarded materials from landfills and incineration by 2025, a big step from the 40% COA is currently diverting.

Effective communication and appropriate signage are integral to minimizing waste at College of the Atlantic, according to Ella Clee ’19.Effective communication and appropriate signage are integral to minimizing waste at College of the Atlantic, according to Ella Clee ’19. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20

Effective communication is also an important part of Clee’s work. “For me it’s very straightforward: ‘Put the #2 plastic in here.’ That should make sense, right? But how to make that make sense to students is the issue,” she said.

Not all of the COA community is familiar with separating materials for recycling. It’s up to the Discarded Resources team to make it clear through signs and awareness training.

“It’s not necessarily that people don’t want to recycle, it’s just not a habit yet,” Clee said. “I think a lot of it is habit. Like what you do with your cup when you’re finished - you throw it in the closest bin. You just have to change the habit of throwing it away. Just leading by example, I think that’s really important.”

“Just leading by example, I think that’s really important” - Ella Clee ’19.

Beyond recycling disposable materials, Clee explains, it’s just as important to be aware of when disposable materials can be avoided. As recently as last year, she says, many people wouldn’t have thought to bring reusable plates and cutlery to a meal. Now it’s common.

“If you noticed, at the Convocation dinner, DR sent out an email saying ‘Bring your own plates and bowls,’” she said. “We’ll do that again for the dinner on Wednesday at Beech Hill Farm.”

The work has influenced Clee heavily and has changed the way she looks at the world, she said.

“Already it’s been affecting me. Any place I go, I look at their recycling, trash, or compost systems, as well as their signage,” she said. “I’m very aware if I leave food on my plate at a restaurant - it’s most likely not going to be composted… Even if I take it home with me, there’s a chance that they’ll give me a styrofoam container.”

Ella Clee ’19's appointment with the <a href="https://www.coa.edu/about/environmental-commitment/waste-management/" target="_blank">Discarded Resources</a> team at College of the Atlantic has helped her discover a new passion for pursuing the diversion of discarded resources from landfills and incinerators.Ella Clee ’19's appointment with the Discarded Resources team at College of the Atlantic has helped her discover a new passion for pursuing the diversion of discarded resources from landfills and incinerators. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20

Though waste management was not one of her interests before coming to COA, it has her attention now. “It has affected what I want to do, and it affects how I shop. I won’t buy certain things anymore.”

Clee, like many students, is proud of how far COA has come, but recognizes that there is still much more we can do to enhance our relationship with waste.

“There is always room for improvement. Okay, we just got ranked the greenest school in the U.S… But we can never stop striving,” she said. “If the rest of the world lived like people in the United States, we would need at least two more planets. We only have one.”