Saving treasure from trash

Mae-Ann Cutting-Bernal is a housekeeping supervisor at Lister Centre and Residences. Her unwavering commitment to waste reduction at work inspired one of the Office of Sustainability and Residence Service’s keystone programs—Eco Move Out.

How did you get interested in sustainability?

I’ve always been concerned about sustainability and it’s been a part of my life since I was young. We used to recycle or reuse glass bottles, compost to fertilize the garden and I never liked it when my mom would buy paper plates. Waste reduction wasn’t that popular in the 1970s, but we did it anyway.

How did you get involved in sustainability on campus?

When I started working at Lister Centre in 2003, I saw so many things go into the garbage that could still be used. There was clothing, pots, pans, dishes, unopened food items, mini-fridges, printers, unused school supplies and more—it could all be donated. It’s amazing what some students leave behind.

Instead of putting things in the trash, I started to collect them for donation. I’d store it out of the way until Goodwill could come and pick it up or I could drop it off at the Campus Food Bank. This was long before the Office of Sustainability or Eco Move Out existed.

It was really hard to manage on my own since I had to hide everything, otherwise it would get thrown out. At one point I donated 60 large bags to Goodwill. That’s how much could have gone to landfills.

What changes have you seen since you started collecting items?

It’s very different now. I used to see so many things left lying around the residences. Students are only able to take so much with them when they move out. Now they can bring their stuff to donation boxes and it’s phenomenal to see how much they are saving from the landfill. It’s also a great learning experience; you don’t have to throw out something when you are done using it. Not only is it less cleanup for my staff, but they are helping out local charities which is incredible.

I’m also excited that we started composting the opened food and cleaning the dirty dishes left behind by residents instead of throwing them out. I love seeing the positive impact and knowing that it doesn’t go to the landfill.

It goes to show that small steps do add up.

Definitely. The staff members here are getting more knowledgeable about sustainability. We try to educate one another about sustainable practices and talk about it. As well, we started a compost program in the offices.

It’s also nice that people are willing to contribute in any way they can. When my staff and I were washing the dirty dishes left behind by students who had moved out, Aramark let us use their dishwasher to help us out. It made the process go a lot quicker. I let my staff take home any of the left over dishes we cleaned. Many of them are international students, so they don’t have a lot.

What other opportunities do you see for on-campus sustainability?

I’m excited by the community gardens on campus and I’d love to see more. It’s giving students the opportunity to learn about growing their own food and composting. Over in Michener Park (a family-oriented residence) having access to a communal garden is huge. Economically it’s great if they can do it. It’s also so much healthier than processed foods.

Why should people care about waste diversion and sustainability?

It’s our future. I see a lot of the stuff that goes into the garbage and then goes to landfills. I’m not sure if people realize the impact of landfills. The more we minimize our waste, the better it is for the earth. My children and grandchildren are going to inherit this planet, so I do what I can.