January 14, 2011 — The familiar red plastic cups that often line Rugby Road have become commodities for University of Virginia fraternity and sorority members, who are picking them up and putting them in bags so they don't make their way to the landfill. Instead, they're carted off by Van Der Linde Recycling.
The Inter-Fraternity Council recently founded a new sustainability initiative, Greek Recycling, designed to "divert waste from local landfills through the reduction, reuse and recycling of reclaimable material from all fraternities and sororities," according to the CIO's website.
At weekly meetings of IFC's President's Council, members of the Greek Recycling initiative pass out recycling bags to fraternity heads, and to sororities that request them. The presidents then encourage their Greek brothers and sisters to keep an eye out for recyclable materials that land on their properties. On Sunday afternoons, the filled recycling bags are put in front of each fraternity or sorority house, where Greek Recycling members pick them up and deposit them in a larger recycling bin owned by Van Der Linde and located at the Kappa Alpha Fraternity house.
"To date, we have collected just over 4,000 pounds of recyclable material that otherwise would have been placed in dumpsters," said Peter Simasek, fourth-year student at the McIntire School of Commerce and mastermind of the initiative.
"When I was serving as sustainability chair on the IFC, I realized that the overwhelming majority of Greek houses did not have a recycling plan," Simasek explained. "I knew that simply encouraging them to start recycling on their own would not be as effective as designing a program that everyone could take part in."
As a result, the IFC donated $500 to get the initiative up and running, although it now serves as an contracted independent organization to foster membership from outside the Greek community. Several groups of students, including those from the Architecture School, Student Council and another student-led recycling group, constitute its membership.
"Peter and his teammates have spread a great deal of awareness and education around the practices of recycling and sustainability," said Michael Citro, assistant dean of students and director of fraternity and sorority life. "At first, this was a grassroots effort, and Peter did an incredible job of forming partnerships with different stakeholders who saw the potential in the idea of providing an outlet for fraternity and sorority members to recycle."
"We share the common goal of recycling all the waste from Greek events and raising awareness," Simasek said of his group's membership. "We began working together in fall 2009 to put in place a long-term foundation for this project, and by spring 2010 we had our plan in order."
In addition to Greek Recycling, the Inter-Fraternity Council has made strides toward making the Greek community even more environmentally conscious. Dane Ferre, a third-year English major in the College of Arts & Sciences, was declared the IFC's first Sustainability Chair in the spring of 2010, replacing the older "property management" chair.
"The IFC Governing Board renamed the position to put more emphasis on sustainable initiatives within the fraternity community," Ferre said.
Ferre also leads Rugby Road Cleanup on weekend mornings, when fraternity members pick up debris scattered along the streets and throughout yards. He is also involved in implementing a new "swap-out" program, in which the IFC provides energy-efficient light bulbs and new smoke detector batteries for its fraternities in exchange for incandescent bulbs and old batteries.
"I saw great potential for fraternities to become increasingly sustainable and emerge as a leading proponent of sustainability on Grounds," Ferre explained when asked why he chose to run for his current position.
It appears as if several other fraternity members have the same attitude, also.
"With an organized system in the Greek community, thousands of cups and cans are recycled each week," Simasek said. "Before, they were being tossed in Dumpsters. Now we can actually keep track of our efforts."