Keeping Arrival Survival sustainable

The Water MonsterA full week of events for new and returning students and their families means thousands of slices of pizza consumed, thousands of ounces of water drunk and countless disposable plates, cups and utensils used – not to mention hundreds of cardboard boxes unloaded and discarded.

All of this waste is recycled and composted thanks to efforts led by Facilities Management, or avoided altogether by the use of a large water buffalo.

Cardboard boxes

Recycling students’ cardboard boxes is one of the largest programs run by the Pitt Green Team, which recruits up to 100 students to move in the day before Arrival Survival and receive sustainability training. They are deployed to seven locations near first-year student resident halls, plus the William Pitt Union, to collect and break down discarded cardboard boxes, to be stacked and put into the recycling stream. Andy Moran, senior manager for grounds, says that during Arrival Survival week, the department’s dump truck hauls away stacks of cardboard boxes three times a day from pickup sites.

“It’s important to do this effort because these are new students, and we want to make sure that they see that sustainability is important for the campus," says Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator for PittServes, which leads student volunteer programs. "This is the best opportunity for us to model these behaviors and encourage them to do these behaviors throughout the year. It’s all about education.”

Pizza boxes and tableware

Ninos says 750 pizza boxes (which can’t be recycled with the rest of the cardboard, because of their greasy content) from Arrival Survival are composted, along with countless specially compostable utensils, plates and cups, and the food waste itself. AgRecycle, which specializes in this process, is employed to divert all this material from the waste stream.

The Pitt Green Team helps to collect this material, with staff members from Panther Central, Housing Services and Facilities Management.

“We've taken all these large-scale events, serving 1,000 people, 2,000 people, and we’ve converted them to zero waste or near-zero waste,” Ninos says, with at least 70 percent of eligible materials composted and recycled. “That’s been incredible that we can divert all that from the landfill throughout the week,” she says.

Her team also does food rescue during the events, harvesting leftovers and donating them to community partners with the aid of a local nonprofit, 412 Food Rescue.

The “Water Monster”

The Water Monster is a 125-gallon water station from which students can refill their reusable water bottles, eliminating the use of many disposable bottles. Groundskeepers from Facilities Management refill and move the water buffalo between each day’s largest Arrival Survival events. Its capacity is the equivalent of 1,000 16-ounce water bottles, and is available for other outdoor Pitt events throughout the year – as long as the temperature is above freezing.

The biggest outcome of all these sustainability efforts at Arrival Survival, Moran says, “is removing this debris from the landfills. The ultimate goal of sustainability is to reduce products that are sticking around for hundreds of years.”


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859