A couple dozen student volunteers gathered at Madison Hall to participate in a Corner Cleanup hosted by the Office for Sustainability Sunday morning. The students donned gloves and wielded trash bags and grabbers to collect litter from Rugby Road and Madison Lane.
The event was the second cleanup of the semester and was led by student employees from the Office of Sustainability’s service learning team. Lela Garner, student outreach and engagement specialist and graduate Education student, described the cleanups as an easy and rewarding way for students to be involved in sustainability-focused community service.
“[The cleanups] definitely have been popular,” Garner said. “I think it’s because it’s a one-time volunteer opportunity that’s close to where folks live and you can see that you’re making a pretty impactful difference.”
Third-year Batten student Nora Raleigh has been on the service learning team organizing the Corner Cleanups, among other sustainability volunteer events, for about a year.
“It’s just lots of fun,” Raleigh said. “These are some of my favorite events.”
The cleanups contribute to the University’s various sustainability goals and work towards reducing the University’s waste footprint to 30 percent of 2010 levels by 2030. So far, they have achieved a 38.8 percent reduction, according to the 2021-22 Sustainability Annual Report.
Picking up litter after a weekend of parties increases awareness among volunteers about the amount of waste generated and left behind.
“A lot of our participants are always surprised at the amount of litter that we see in the Corner area, particularly after a weekend,” Garner said.
The Office of Sustainability partners with various student organizations to sponsor each month’s cleanup. Sunday’s event was sponsored by the Inter-Sorority Council and Defend Our Future. Defend Our Future helps its members get involved with environmental policy and working for climate advocacy. The ambassadors try to connect their environmentally focused events, like an upcoming one on the effects of climate change on wine, to students’ daily lives.
“I feel like the whole point of DOF is to really find a way to incentivize climate advocacy … and the best way to do that is by hosting these events that are kind of interpersonal and are really related to students like a [corner cleanup],” Yohnanes said.
Fourth-year College students Liya Tadesse and Ephrata Yohannes are campus ambassadors for Defend Our Future and joined the cleanup and offered both shirts and information about Defend Our Future to participants. The pair was looking into organizing their own cleanup when they came across a U.Va. Sustainability Instagram post seeking Corner Cleanup cosponsors.
“It’s just great to partner with other sustainability-aligned CIOs on Grounds,” Yohannes said.
Civic responsibility and community engagement are central to the Corner Cleanups — the litter picked up on Sunday has a visible impact on the neighborhoods and the residents who live in them.
“There are also our community members living close by and we want to be respectful of the space we share with them,” Garner said.
Correctly disposing of waste is also important to the local ecosystem.
“From an environmental standpoint, those pollutants end up in our waste streams,” Garner said. “They end up in trees and bushes and they impact a lot more than just the folks living on that street.”
Rugby Road and Madison Lane are ideal candidates for cleanups because they have parking, dumpsters and litter to remove, Raleigh explained.
“I definitely want to brainstorm more locations, on and off Grounds where we have access to those things that also need cleaning up,” Raleigh said.
Raleigh also called on students to practice minimizing waste in their own lives and offered some tips.
“I try to refill as much of my home soaps and stuff as possible,” Raleigh said. “Refill Renew comes to Cville Market, which is nice … you can just refill shampoo and conditioner without having to buy more bottles.”
The next Corner Cleanup is planned for Nov. 13.