Making Greek Life Green with Cans to Cans: An Interview with Jeremy Hurley

Have you heard of Cans to Cans? If you’re at UVa, perhaps you’ve seen some of their Facebook posts or heard about the organization by word of mouth. Even though Cans to Cans is a growing hot topic these days, you may be surprised to find out that it just go launched this semester! Jeremy Hurley and Isabel Stack partnered together in their Global Sustainability class this past Fall and created Cans to Cans. In the Global Sustainability class, students form a team and write a project proposal that bring sustainability activities and initiatives to UVa and the greater Charlottesville community. Cans to Cans accomplishes this by collecting aluminum cans from fraternities and dropping them off at a recycling plant. For each pound of aluminum, Cans to Cans receives $0.60. The money earned then goes to purchasing canned goods and donating them to a local food pantry, thus completing the “Cans to Cans” cycle.

Since its inception, Cans to Cans has partnered up with Green Grounds to continue its service. Members of the Green Squad, one of the subgroups of Green Grounds, work with Jeremy in outreach, volunteer organization, and logistics. If you haven’t already, check out the Cans to Cans Facebook page.

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The first haul of cans, estimating around 30 lbs of aluminum! Photo credits to Cans to Cans.

 

Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Hurley, a fourth year environmental science major and co-founder of Cans to Cans.

Where did the idea for Cans to Cans come from?

One summer, my family saved all of their aluminum cans. At the end of the summer, my dad took all the cans to a recycling plant and got money in return. I thought about how this idea could be applied to fraternities, especially since there is a history of sustainability-related projects that failed to take hold within the Greek community at UVa, and also how Cans to Cans would be an opportunity to give back to the community. What’s especially great about Cans to Cans is that you can see its success with every trip made to the recycling plant and each can of food that is purchased as a result. We could have opted to simply give a check to a food bank of our choosing but that felt more impersonal.

What organizations have you talked to so far? It sounds like Cans to Cans has done some serious networking already!

So far, we’ve talked to organizations like StudCo (Student Council), Environmental Science Organization, APO (Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity), and Green Grounds. By talking to a variety of other organizations, we’ve come up with ideas for getting money to help fund the program, volunteers, and other logistic details such as storing the cans [as an in-between one they have been collected from fraternities and before they are taken to the recycling plant]. We have plans to talk to the Environmental Stewardship Subcommittee (ESS) as well. Getting in touch with all these organizations and receiving their support has really helped make Cans to Cans get as far as it has. In the future, once I graduate, hopefully enough contacts have been established to take care of logistics such that Cans to Cans will continue its service.

What have been some challenges you’ve faced so far?

One of the biggest difficulties has been getting the message out to fraternities that our services are available and that they should be setting aside their aluminum cans instead of throwing them away. So far, we’ve thought of a few ways to approach this problem. One possibility that we will definitely do in the near future is talk to the brotherhood at their chapter meetings so that word gets out to every fraternity member.

Another solution is to set aside bins exclusively for Cans to Cans. In other words, we make the act of being sustainable easy in such a way that it does not make people change their habits and lifestyles. However, purchasing industrial-sized bins is expensive. The ones we’ve looked at are $250 apiece! Maybe in the long term the bins would be feasible, especially once Cans to Cans can secure funding, but we’ve also looked at the possibility of purchasing a storage unit for the cans. Right now, I’m running the operation right out of my backyard! I have bags and bags of cans that are waiting to be taken to the recycling plant. Not only does a storage unit free up my backyard, but it’s a long-term solution for Cans to Cans since I’ll be graduating this May.

Transporting the cans to the recycling plant is also tricky. Not everyone has a Jeep. Right now, I’m the one driving the cans to the plant but, as mentioned, I won’t be here forever! It would be great if we got some kind of funds, maybe through a grant, to purchase some kind of trailer to increase storage capacity. That way, we can make fewer trips back and forth to the recycling plant, thereby decreasing our carbon footprint.

How do you see Cans to Cans expanding? Do you see Cans to Cans offering its services outside of the Greek community? What about setting up drop-off collection bins for cans?

I’ve already had non-Greek organizations contact me about collecting their cans. In my opinion, no amount of cans is too small. Small things do add up! Maybe one day Cans to Cans will expand, but for now, it’s best we iron out any kinks in the current process before expanding our horizons.

As for setting up drop-off collection bins for cans, whether the collection bins be on Rugby Road or elsewhere, that probably won’t happen right away. Recycling, especially setting aside exclusively aluminum cans, isn’t 2nd nature to everyone. Sorting aluminum cans from trash is a task that we don’t have the time for. Maybe once more people are aware of the project and separate their recyclables, but for now, we’re focusing on ways to make separating the aluminum cans easy for everyone. After we’ve babied them enough, then perhaps the model will change.

When do you think there will be no more “hand holding” for fraternities?

I definitely think it will take a bit. It won’t happen right away. However, we’ve also thought of ways to incentivize Cans to Cans such as holding contests among the fraternities to see who can recycle the mount aluminum by pound. At the recycling plant, we can weigh each bag individually and then provide the numbers to participating fraternities.

What has been your best haul so far?

I’ve only done one haul this semester, but that was already 30 pounds! Given the amount of cans I have in my backyard right now, I’d say the next trip will be almost 50 pounds.

Why did you partner with Green Grounds for the project?

At the end of each Global Sustainability class, there’s a poster competition where the entire class presents their projects. Megan McDaniels, one of the co-executives for Green Grounds, was one of the judges. When our eyes met, “it was fate.” I told her I wanted to make this project happen so we exchanged contact information and talked more over winter break. At the beginning of this spring semester, Megan introduced the project to the rest of Green Grounds.

What are the benefits from working with Green Squad?

It’s great having all this man power. Without Green Squad, recruiting volunteers would be difficult and time-consuming. I would probably have resorted to tabling and trying to get uninterested people passionate about this cause. However, when I walk into a Green Grounds meeting, the Green Squad is ready to go. It’s great being able to bounce ideas off each other. I tell them over and over again, “This is not just my baby anymore; this is our baby.”

How has news of Cans to Cans spread?

We’ve definitely done a lot on Facebook. Additionally, I’ve been invited to club meetings to do a spiel and ask for volunteers to help with can collection and drop off. Other than that, I’ve just been talking to everybody that’s interested in hearing about the project.

What are Green Squad and volunteers doing?

Green Squad has been put in charge of social media outreach. Additionally, they’re looking into possibilities for storage and the other logistical problems [that I addressed earlier]. This weekend, I’ll have an e-mail listserv to e-mail volunteers and coordinate can collections.

What’s this I hear about a Cans to Cans promotional event? Any ideas as to future promo events?

With Green Grounds, we’re planning a Zero Waste event where sustainability organizations and fraternities will come together and B.Y.O.C. – that’s “Bring Your Own Can!” At the end of the event, we’ll collect all the cans and take them to the plant.

Other than the Zero Waste event, I’ve already interviewed with the Cavalier Daily.

For future promotional events, it would be fun to decorate the Cans to Cans bin and shed [once we secure them]. There’s also the idea of doing a competition among the fraternities. They could even count the competition as a philanthropy event.

With or without an event, though, making our organization transparent is something we’re working on. We want to be able to make our recycling data accessible to any and all interested parties. Tracking data would allow fraternities to see how their recycling rates have improved over time and be great for said competition!

Thanks for the interview, Jeremy! Any last words?

A huge thanks to the members of Green Grounds, all the fraternity houses, and organizations involved with the collection process. It’s been great so far and I look forward to future progress!

If you’re interested in Cans to Cans, contact Jeremy Hurley at jwh9mf@virginia.edu

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