How did I get so interested in sustainability? In May 2014, about a month after I completed my freshman year at Furman, I had the privilege to travel to Hawaii with my two long-time friends from high school. The three of us set out on a journey to hike the Kalalau Trail located atop Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. The whole trail only stretches 11 miles but is rated as one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the United States. The Kalalau Valley is one of the most picturesque and natural landscapes I have come across, but it was hard not to notice that the park was littered with people and also with..well…litter.
Like other national parks in the United States, hiking in Kalalau requires a permit, which sometimes takes several months to get. This means that there is going to be people who don’t always follow that rule. But what I really didn’t understand was why there was so much human generated waste in such a beautiful natural park. To give you an idea of how bad the problem is, in January, the Department of Land and Natural Resources combined with a law enforcement team, ticketed nearly 70 backpackers who did not have permits to camp in Kalalau, arrested one person who had a jet-ski on the beach, and hauled out tons of trash and rubbish left from campers who had abandoned their site. As someone who has camped my entire life, I’ve always been taught to “pack out what you pack in.” This is when I first reflected on why people become so lazy when it comes to their post-consumption habits. Throwing away your waste takes little effort, properly throwing it away only requires a little more. If people are going to live such a high consumptive lifestyle, the least they could do is properly dispose of the waste they produce.
This year I’ve had the privilege of working as the Waste Audit Fellow at the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability. The core of my work consists of conducting waste audits by collecting and measuring waste samples from residential and institutional buildings within Furman’s campus, and to analyze the data itself. I work alongside four other Furman students and sustainability professor Dr. Weston Dripps. Our objective is to develop a Waste Management Plan that could achieve zero waste on campus, contributing to the carbon neutrality goal set for 2026. I’ve learned so much working at the Shi Center and gained invaluable hands on experience in the growing sustainability field.