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Campus efforts to REDUCE our impact on the world

September 8, 2015


by Dr. John T. Sieben

As the visitor to Texas Lutheran University entered Tschoepe Hall through the east door she heard a faint rumbling that sounded to her like Rummmmm, Reuuuuu, Recccccc…. Curiosity aroused, our guest let her excellent hearing guide her to the second floor and the south side of the building. With each step the sound took on more and more the cadence of speech, it became more distinct until finally she was sure that a small group was chanting, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Had she found a Tschoepe Hall Cult engaged in devotions? No, it was just the Sustainability Committee discussing how to make life on campus more sustainable.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle won’t change the world, but it will help. And these three actions are things that everyone can do with very little effort. Small efforts mount up, especially if you can get your friends to help, too.

Let’s focus on Reduce for the moment. Look at these figures from the Pacific Institute concerning single-use water bottles.

  • Producing the bottles for American consumption in 2006 required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. And consumption of bottled water has increased each year since.
  • Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide

Most of these bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is a type of plastic that can be recycled and TLU has an active recycling program.

Recycling is good. Everybody loves recycling. But it is the third component of our sustainability plan. The first component is REDUCE. If plastic water bottles are not needed they won’t be created. If you can stop purchasing water in plastic bottles less will be needed and you will be helping to cut down the petroleum and energy that are used each year to create plastic bottles, the carbon dioxide that is a byproduct, and the accumulating trash that is plastic bottles that do not get recycled. This can impact your pocket, too. Producing and transporting a 20 ounce bottle of water costs about 2000 times as much as the 20 ounces of filtered water that is available from the tap.

Last year the Sustainability Committee began urging TLU citizens to use our bottle fill stations and refill their “klean canteen,” or Nalgene Bottle instead of buying yet another plastic bottle of water. In 2014 and 2015, during the Fall Orientation for new students, each student was given an attractive, durable, reusable water bottle. Not only will the repeated use of this bottle reduce the reason for manufacturing disposable plastic water bottles, but they can be used at Lucky’s and Hein Dinning Hall. Special pricing at Lucky’s for refills of coffee or soda is $1.00 and the bottle can be used at Hein for “to go” drinks.

The refill stations are conveniently located in high traffic buildings on our campus. You will find them in the Alumni Student Center, Beck Center, Centennial Hall, Fine Arts, the Fitness Center, Jones Complex, Langer Hall, Trinity Hall, and Tschoepe Hall. The fill stations each have a counter that tracks the number of 20 fluid ounce fills that are dispensed. From January to May 2014 we refilled 146, 554 twenty ounce bottles. That is a lot of bottles but when you consider the energy savings it is even more attention getting. By not using 146,554 plastic bottles we have saved enough energy to heat more than 6.5 million cups of coffee. Or we could use the energy and plastic saved to spin yarn and make about 8,000 XL tee shirts. When you look at it that way our efforts to REDUCE, though perhaps small by a global measure, are significant and were made with little to no burden on ourselves.

Please help us think and implement additional meaningful ways to REDUCE our consumption of goods while maintaining a comfortable life style. Share your thoughts with me or with Dr. Holly Lutze who chairs the Sustainability Committee. And remember, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.

For more information about the Sustainability Committee and posts about the environment, visit

Dr. John T. Sieben is a math and computer science professor at Texas Lutheran University.