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Steps Toward A Greener Earth: THON’s Push To Become More Environmentally Friendly

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know a little bit about THON.

But what you might not know is that Penn State’s annual dance marathon has been making strides in recent years to reduce its environmental footprint.

THON’s OPPerations Committee partnered with the Sustainability Institute in 2016 to find ways to reduce its level of waste. The end goal is to eventually become a zero-waste event.

Last year, THON implemented a plan to reduce the number of plastic water bottles generated. Dancers were given reusable water bottles to use throughout the 46 hours, courtesy of the Hospitality Committee. THON attendees and committee members were also encouraged to bring reusable water bottles to the event (as evidenced by the water fountain lines).

OPP made the decision in 2019 to introduce a revised compost system — Compost Cart — so waste could be composted more efficiently. In the past, bags were used to collect compost throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, these bags would often tear while being replaced and affect how much was actually able to be composted.

The idea behind the Compost Cart is to line the bins themselves rather than go through the trouble of swapping out the compost bags. The hope is that this system will reduce the amount of tear and make composting more efficient. The new system is also more cost-effective and reduces the use of plastic garbage bags.

OPP’s ability to track analyze the amount of compost waste this year in comparison to years past hit a bit of a roadblock, so the committee isn’t completely sure how much more effective the new system has been.

“We worked a lot this year to better our ability to record these things, however, there is always growing pains with a new system, i.e. the Compost Cart, so I imagine the numbers would have dipped slightly,” said Isaac Messner, a THON OPPerations captain and sustainability officer.

Starting in 2016, THON decided to start computing its waste diversion rate, which is a calculation of the amount of waster that’s recycled, reused, or composted instead of being thrown away.

THON previously made steady strides toward achieving a greater waste diversion rate. Its ultimate goal is to have a diversion rate above 80 percent for all of its events — a goal the organization had previously been fairly close to achieving. The diversion rate increased from five percent in 2015 up to 72 percent in 2018.

“We made a lot of forward decisions to further our ability to reach zero waste and we weren’t prepared for a lot of issues that came up with implementation,” Messner said. “But now that we have seen some of these programs in action we have a ton of knowledge to build upon for next year.”

Despite the setback at THON itself, last year’s THON 5k had a diversion rate of 82.92 percent and the Family Carnival’s was 82.44 percent.

Another new initiative that OPP implemented for THON 2019 was its “Spectator Recycling Program.” The step allowed organizations gathered in the stands to recycle without having to leave their spots.

The recycling initiative, TREE, allowed organizations to earn credit for recycling bags of cans. While the initiative isn’t new, it was more profitable this year than in any year prior.

THON’s changes have been successful, but it’s constantly looking for better ways to become a zero-waste event.

“This year marks an important landmark in the THON community’s ability to recognize the problem, but it is an uphill battle from here to find solutions,” Messner said. “We laid the foundation this year, the framework is hopefully to come, but I am confident that the THON community will come together to provide a safe and healthy world FTK.”

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About the Author

Emma Dieter

Emma is a senior from the ever-popular "right-outside" Philly area studying labor employment relations and PR. She's also the Student Life editor for Onward State. She has been a Penn Stater from cradle and will continue to bleed blue and white, 'til grave. She loves trashy romance novels, watching Netflix, and crying over cute videos of dogs. If you ever want to talk more with her about how great she is, or simply have other inquiries, feel free to email her at [email protected]

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