Liz Piper-Goldberg, fifth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has been passionate about the environment since grade school. As a teenager, she encouraged members of her community to stop using incandescent light bulbs. For Piper-Goldberg, it was like a light bulb went off — a compact fluorescent light bulb, that is.
“I realized how a simple change at the most basic level of our lives can translate into big savings for us, and for the environment,” said Piper-Goldberg, 27.
Today, she’s bringing simple, significant changes to the HUC-JIR’s New York campus. Thanks to a grant from the Gendler Grapevine Project, Piper-Goldberg helped spearhead the Greening Initiative, a project to revamp the campus’ food system in order to minimize waste. The project will launch this fall.
Changes on campus will be real and noticeable, said Piper-Goldberg. The campus cafeteria has upgraded to compostable and biodegradable plates, utensils, cups and napkins. The college is currently in the process of contracting with an urban composting company, enabling removal of both food and food-related materials from the waste stream. Students and staff will also be provided with an environmental education series explaining the compost-process and the motivating Jewish values behind the project. Bal taschit, the prohibition against wastefulness, is one tenet.
“Students will need to adapt to the changes,” said Piper-Goldberg. “Some basic expectations, like having a trashcan in your classroom, will be changed.”
Instead of individual trashcans, there will be one central waste station on every floor. The waste station will have four separate containers: compost, paper recycling, plastic recycling, and any trash that remains. Posters explaining the initiative and the Jewish-values supporting the project will be present at every station.
“We’re hoping to create a waste-neutral food system, in which all waste that can’t be composed or recycled is eliminated,” said Piper-Goldberg.
Though the project will begin only on the New York campus, Piper-Goldberg hopes the project will expand to other HUC-JIR campuses, as well as other institutions.
“It’s so easy to play a role in tikkun olam,” she said. “If it’s easy and we know how, how can we not?”