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Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative

Through strong relationships with partners on and off campus, the Voinovich School is creating momentum for turning waste into a resource for lasting change in Appalachian Ohio. We have a diverse portfolio of waste-related projects, such as the Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI), that seek to build local wealth and environmental health by increasing waste diversion and supporting the sustainable development of zero waste behaviors, collaborations, infrastructure, and systems. 

The Voinovich School’s AOZWI activities grow resource recovery businesses, support local waste infrastructure, engage communities and Ohio University to become more active participants in waste reduction and diversion, and teach students about circular economy principles and sustainability. A “circular economy” seeks to reduce consumption of finite resources by building waste and pollution prevention into the design process and keeping materials in use that might otherwise be thrown away. Our Student Zero Waste Team plays a key role in our on-campus efforts.

The AOZWI is a multiyear and multifaceted project, in collaboration with community partner Rural Action, that has been funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of the Ohio University Foundation, since 2010. AOZWI to date has served as a catalyst to enable widespread transition; for example, Athens and Hocking Counties increased their waste diversion rates from 8% to 35% between 2010 and 2019. In 2020, the AOZWI began a revised scope of activities that seeks to further institutionalize change, energize local champions, and support social enterprise development.

Projects include:

  • Ohio University was awarded an Ohio EPA Recycling Grant to improve the collection and processing of organic waste on campus and use athletic events as an opportunity to educate the Bobcat community on their waste choices. This grant is a success of the Sustainability and Athletics Working Group, a partnership of Ohio University’s Athletics Department, Voinovich School, Facilities Management, Campus Recycling, and Office of Sustainability, which aims to “green” Athletic Department operations. 
  • Grant funding has enabled the Voinovich School to support 30+ waste- or recycling-related businesses or social enterprises through a variety of services from market analysis to securing investors. The Voinovich School’s focus on Social Return on Investment analysis, as well as developing a Social Enterprise Ecosystem, has grown rapidly in recent years demonstrating value in our local resources and attracting investment in circular economy prospects.
  • The Voinovich School, in partnership with the Office of Sustainability and Campus Recycling, administered an electronic Campus Zero Waste Survey in 2015 and 2018 to gauge attitudes and perceptions of waste reduction, recycling, and composting across the Athens campus community. This reporting helps inform campus leadership in planning new initiatives and serves as a conversation starter for the Voinovich School to reach out and engage many campus units on waste and sustainability initiatives.


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