2023 All Together Green Facilities Management News Sustainability Sustainable Innovation

The Shape of Water: A Collaborative Sustainable Art Installation

Multiple waste audits and a campus clean-up conducted at George Mason University by Mason Facilities, Student Government, and University Sustainability contributed an estimated 1,555 single-use plastic items, weighing 58.4 pounds to Celia Ledón’s The Shape of Water installation, visible at the Reach (Welcome Pavilion) in the Kennedy Center from March 22 – April 23, 2023. Ledón’s installation was “created from plastic waste, draw[ing] inspiration from the female figure as a personification of mythological deities associated with water,” according to the official page on the Kennedy Center’s website. 

You may have contributed to Ledon’s installation if you disposed of a single-use plastic item at the Fairfax Campus any time before March 14! Students and staff members collected single-use plastics during a Maintain Mason campus clean-up event and three separate waste audits. All items were collected, sorted, and bagged for Ledón to use in the creation of her installation.  

The Maintain Mason campus clean-up event was hosted by Student Government on March 3, 2023. During this event, Colin McAulay, Chair of University Services for Student Government, led volunteers who collected a total of 65 pounds of litter outside of the Johnson Center, the HUB, and the Student Union Building I on the Fairfax Campus. Volunteers contributed 30 single-use plastic items to the installation. 

Three volunteer waste audits were organized by Mason Facilites and University Sustainability to check waste streams for appropriate disposal of items on March 3, 10, and 14. During a waste audit, each waste stream – trash, compost, and recycling – is sorted item-by-item to verify correct disposal. If the compost or one of the recycling streams is too contaminated – as low as an 11% contamination rate – then the entire load is rejected and disposed of in the trash! Mason Patriots can help the university on its zero waste journey by appropriately disposing of their waste using this guidance.  

The three audits contributed more than 1,500 single-use plastic items Ledón’s installation. Audits provide valuable data to inform and support ongoing waste bin standardization efforts. The audits highlighted the importance of standard messaging at the bin and the need to co-locate trash, recycling, and compost waste streams to improve access.  

The results of the compost waste stream audit of the Bigbelly and Max-R zero waste station pilots in partnership with Mason Dining at the Northern Neck Starbucks location were impressive – a very low volume of single-use plastics contamination. The hard work of Starbucks Northern Neck and Mason Dining staff was reflected in the very high percentage of appropriate disposal, more than 90%!  

Once all the single-use plastics were sorted and bagged, a Mason alum James Clark (Biology ‘14), currently a master's student at George Washington University, picked up the single-use plastics and transported them to the Kennedy Center where they were made available for Ledón to use.  

The single-use plastics collected at George Mason University are now incorporated into Ledón’s The Shape of Water installation, visible at the Reach (Welcome Pavilion) in the Kennedy Center from March 22 – April 23, 2023.  

None of the single-use plastics would be featured in Ledón’s installation without the commitment and support of Kevin Brim, Supervisor for Recycle/Waste Management, Facilities. Brim provided expert guidance about the complexities of Mason’s waste system, efficiently navigated administrative processes, and created opportunities for participation from students and staff while ensuring safety. He ensured all volunteers and staff had appropriate equipment to safely complete the waste audits.  

“I enjoy supporting the zero waste goals of the university by working collaboratively with students and staff to host educational and impactful waste audits and campus clean-ups,” said Brim. 

Mason Facilities and University Sustainability continue to lead efforts to advance Mason towards the goal of becoming a zero waste university. Ongoing efforts from the Mason Sustainability Council’s Circular Economy and Zero Waste Task Force, co-led by Amber Saxton, University Sustainability, and Pascal Petter, Operations and Business Services, include the multi-year phase out and replacement of all single-use plastics and polystyrene with more sustainable alternatives, the ‘buy less, buy better’ initiative, improvements to Mason’s waste system, and alignment with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 17.   

Colleen Regan, Zero Waste Specialist with University Sustainability, led the three audits and is actively engaged in ongoing efforts to make Mason a zero waste university as a member of the Mason Sustainability Council’s Circular Economy and Zero Waste Task Force. To become a zero waste university, Mason will need to divert at least 90% of all waste generated away from the trash by reusing, repurposing, composting, or recycling.  

“Contributing to Ledón’s installation highlights Mason's ongoing single-use plastics and polystyrene elimination," said Regan. “Waste audits are hands-on, educational, and provide us with crucial information to make data-driven decisions to improve our university waste system." 

University Sustainability is a proud member of the DC Coalition of Higher Education for the Environment, Resilience, and Sustainability (DC CHEERS). DC CHEERS members who contributed to Ledón’s installation, including Mason, are featured on this StoryMap. DC CHEERS is a network of representatives from DC area universities guided by a shared vision of a sustainable and inclusive future that share knowledge and resources to advance institutional sustainability while collaborating and partnering on events, initiatives, and collaborations that harness the diverse expertise of its members.   
The efforts of the following individuals who are not featured in this article were also essential to this successful initiative: Kwame Adomako, recycling worker, Facilities Waste Management and Recycling; Shawn Andrews, recycling worker, Facilities Waste Management and Recycling; Ben Auger, sustainability engagement coordinator, University Sustainability; Josh Pittman, recycling worker, Facilities Waste Management and Recycling; Ky Tran, a current Environment and Sustainability Studies student; Nakki Watanabe, a current Environment and Sustainability Studies student, completing a joint internship with University Sustainability and Facilities Waste and Recycling department; and Student Government’s Colin McAulay and Sebastian Silvestro as well as all the Maintain Mason volunteers.  

Story Credit: Benjamin Auger and Colleen Regan
Photo Credit: Cristian Torres