Passion in Science Awards® 2019 – Samantha Romanick

Passion in Science Environmental Stewardship Award winner, Samantha Romanick, describes her journey to a low waste lifestyle, and her work to reduce plastic usage by founding the Campus Refill Initiative, which offers alternatives to single-use plastics.


Our next category is environmental stewardship. With this award, we recognize individuals in the scientific community who are working to create a more sustainable world. The first awardee in this category is Samantha Romanick. Sammy comes from the University of Nevada, where she established the campus refill initiative. That is aimed at reducing plastic waste on college campuses by offering them alternatives to single use plastics. While the program is relatively new, she's initiated discussions at the University of California to expand her project there and is also looking at creative ways to bring in more funding to expedite the expansion of her work. We will invite Sammy up to give a presentation. Hello everybody. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I'm really excited to be here. Deana did a great job introducing me, but I am a grad student at UNR and I study molecular biology. But today I am the founder of campus refill initiative, and our goal is to have a plastic free university. First in this presentation, I'm gonna start talking ... I'm gonna talk to you about my journey, how I got here. It all started with this book here. I read this book called "Zero Waste Home" written by Bea Johnson. And to be honest with you, I wasn't a person trying to go out of my way to reduce my household waste. This book kind of fell into my life, so I'll tell you a story. It's really funny. I had just graduated with my master's degree in 2014 and I went ... I was at the spa, I had just got a massage, and I was in the front room where they have a gift shop and the front desk. I was waiting to check out, there was someone in line in front of me. I was just checking out the gifts and they had this bookcase. They had yoga books, meditation books, and then they had this book here called "Zero Waste Home." I was looking at it and I read the title again and again, and I was just astonished. I was like, "What? There's such a thing as a zero waste home?" So I was very intrigued by it. I read the inside of the cover and it explained how it will educate you on how to have a zero waste home. I was very interested in what it had to teach me, so I bought it and I read it. I was very surprised at what it had to say. Every since then I've just been on my own journey to I don't like to say zero waste, and I'll go over this a little later, 'cause I don't think there is such a thing. What I like to say is I'm on my journey to a low waste lifestyle. So, yeah, I'm gonna summarize a little bit of what they teach you in this book and then I'll go over what we've done with campus refill initiative. First of all, this book goes over reducing your household waste, whether it be plastic, paper, glass. I just want to let you know that campus refill initiative is more focused on reducing plastic waste. That's because plastic waste, it's a material that is not digestible by our earth. It actually causes a lot of problems in our environment and our wildlife. Normally a lot of the plastic waste ends up in our oceans. This, like I said, is harmful for our environment, and our fish eat it, and then we eventually eat the fish that ate it so then it will cause, eventually, problems with us as well. It's a big problem, so everyone should address it because it's a global issue. All right, so in order to start your journey we should learn about the five Rs. The first R is refuse, and I'll go over these more in detail. The second is reduce, the third is reuse, and the fourth here is recycle but what you can also have in this section here is refill or repurpose. The last one is rot the rest. So, let's go over refusing. So, refusing actually starts outside of the household. Refusing things like freebies, so when you go to events or conferences if they're handing out pens or swag you could just simply refuse it and say, "No." Business cards are pretty wasteful. Most people collect them and they just eventually throw them away once they collect their information in their cellphones these days, right? So you can either take a photo of someone's business card and hand it back to them, so you can refuse it that way, or just simply put their contact in your phone right then and there. Another thing is single use items, such as drinking water bottles. Nowadays wherever you go you have water refill stations, just like one outside, as well as in the airports. You can just bring your own reusable water bottle everywhere you go and you can start refusing plastic water bottles. Also, you can bring your own coffee mug to Starbucks or your favorite coffee shop and get it refilled there, and just reuse your coffee mug. You can start refusing these type of coffee cups. Also, plastic cutlery. I have mine here. So, this is my lunchbox, and I'll go over it in more detail later. But you can carry your own reusable utensils with you wherever you go, and then you can start refusing plastic cutlery or simply dine in at a restaurant and then reuse their silverware that they provide. So, stop accepting and start refusing. Another thing you can start refusing is the plastic straw when you're out. You really don't need to drink from a straw, but if you prefer to drink from a straw you can also bring your own. I bring my own in this little case here. It just whips right out and then you can use it in any drink that you like. It comes with its own squeegee to clean it out with, and it's a little key chain. So you can start refusing the plastic straw and bring your own. Who here hates junk mail? Right? So, you can actually opt out of junk mail. I haven't received junk mail in months, and it's beautiful. You can actually go to these websites here and opt out of junk mail. I'm gonna let you guys take a moment and take a photo of those. I can provide this information to Kari here and send it to all of NEB. Okay, so another thing I refuse to use is drier sheets. First of all, they're very chemically. Your skin is your biggest organ, so what you put on your clothes you put on your skin. We can actually refuse these, and most of them are actually made from plastic fibers, nylon fibers, in the sheets as well. What I use are these wool balls here, wool drier balls. They actually are great, because you put about four of them at a time in your drier. They actually help dry your clothes faster, so you actually reduce energy. You can also scent them with any essential oils that you like. They're reusable forever. I bought my wool balls about three years ago and they still look the same. If you ever want to get rid of them, you can also compost them 'cause they're made from wool. Also, you can collect your lint and give it to your camping and backpacker friends, because it's a great fire starter. You can refuse paper products such as paper towels and napkins and replace them with reusable kitchen towels, reusable cleaning towels, and reusable napkins. You can simply make your own too by cutting up an old T-shirt or an old sheet. This is a great option to ... It's a small option you can do in your everyday life. Another thing I refuse is tea bags. I enjoy drinking tea, I drink it every day, but I actually use loose leaf tea that I can actually refill in this canister here at a local company called Two Soul Tea in Reno, Nevada. I use this little tea pod here that I fill the loose leaf tea with, and that's my new tea bag. Most tea bags are made from paper and sometimes plastic is in there, so you can't compost it. They also have that little staple, so it's a little bit wasteful if you can't compost it, right? Or recycle it. This is a good alternative if you enjoy tea. There's other alternatives for coffee too. Also, refuse grocery shopping bags. They're really not needed these days because there are reusable ones. We don't want to be like this girl over here, but if you necessarily need the plastic bags for other means then, yes, use it. But for the most part, you can shop with grocery shopping or even when you go shopping for clothing or anything like that you can bring your own bag. You can also refuse plastic produce bags. They actually make reusable produce bags these days. You can bring your own to the grocery store and put your produce in there. You can even put your bulk items in here as well. They're great, and I love them. You can reduce your plastic produce bags by bringing your own. Okay, so reducing now. Reducing starts within the household. Embarrassingly, this is my garage and my closet. I haven't had time to go through spring cleaning, but reducing starts by getting rid of the things you don't need or your don't use. For example, apply the six months rule. Meaning, if you haven't used an item in your house in the past three months and you don't plan to use it in the next three months then you probably don't need it. Then you can either give it away to someone else who might need it, or you can donate it, or just find a different way to repurpose it. Okay, so you can also reduce by buying in bulk. Buying in bulk also has another benefit, because you actually shop a little more healthier. These are some bulk sections in my local grocery stores, but I'm sure you guys are familiar with these in your stores wherever you're from as well. You can bring your own little produce bags, as I mentioned before, and you can put your nuts in it, your oats, your granola. You can use those. For the finer things such as powders, you can use reusable paper bags. Paper bags are great 'cause you can compost those too or recycle them as long as they're not that soiled. Remember that rule. Some grocery stores let you bring in your own mason jars so you can put that freshly ground almond butter or peanut butter in them, but I would make sure you ask the grocery store first because no grocery store in Reno, Nevada allows that unfortunately. So make sure you ask first, but some of them will let you do that. I think I have one other slide. Yeah, here's the peanut butter example. You can get fresh ground coffee most likely and you can use a paper bag for that. You can use a bread bag at your favorite bakery, so you can reduce that plastic packaging around bread. You can go to your favorite brewery and refill your growlers with beer. If you know any local farmers you can reuse your egg cartons and get fresh eggs and local eggs as well. All right, so reusing. You can reuse a lot of things. A lot of what I reuse is my water bottle, my tea canister, I showed you my straw earlier, and chopsticks. You can bring your own chopsticks to sushi and then you can refuse and reduce those disposable chopsticks out there. Again, this is just an example of me going to a coffee shop and having them fill up my own canister with coffee or tea. Okay, so in Reno, Nevada we have a recycling program. It's a single stream recycling program where we have this bin and you can put glass, paper, aluminum in it and they take it off and recycle it. I'm not sure what recycling you guys have in your communities, but you can always recycle anything, just make sure you're aware of what is actually accepted and not accepted because once you put something that's not accepted in your recycle bin that whole bin pretty much just goes to landfill and that's just how it works. Make sure you understand what goes in your recycling bin, what's not accepted, and make sure all of your recycling is clean and dry as well, because if it's soiled it also goes to landfill. Okay? In my opinion, recycling is actually pretty wasteful because in America no one knows how to recycle, so a lot of it actually ends up in landfill. That's why I choose to reuse and refill for this step as well as repurpose. Okay, the last R is rot. Compost the rest. For those of you who don't know what composting is, basically you get your vegetables at the store or the farmers market. Sometimes you have scraps, you cut off the bad parts or the stems. You have scraps, you just collect it in some kind of compost bin, and then you can actually compost a couple different ways. You can do your own backyard composting. If you have someone else who composts, give it to them. There is sometimes commercial or industrial composting in your neighborhood. I don't have any industrial composting in Reno Nevada, unfortunately, but you guys might have some. You can send off your compost to them, and what they do is basically decompose your scraps into nutrient rich soil. Then you can actually use that soil to replant more vegetables and produce. It's a great process here. Only organic matter can be recycled in this process. Okay, just a little bit more about what I do at home. This is my zero waste laundry routine here. I got my wool balls that I explained to you before. This is my lavender essential oil. I actually refill this, because we have a local lavender field in Reno, Nevada that offers lavender oil and I'm able to refill it through them. Then we have refillable laundry detergent as well. I just use this mason jar and refill it, and that is my zero waste laundry routine. I also have a zero waste dental hygiene routine. I use this bamboo toothbrush, it's 100% biodegradable because it's made from 100% bamboo. And then down here is my dental lace. It comes in this little canister here, it's a little tiny glass vial with a stainless steel lid with the floss cutter on top. The floss is made from silk, so it's also compostable. When you run out of the spool you just simply replace the spool. It's refillable and compostable. That's my zero waste dental hygiene routine. When I want to go out and eat or take food out to go for lunch I bring my ... It's a new lunchbox these days. Here's my lunchbox here. I bring my reusable utensil set, my lunchbox. I bring some mason jars, my to go wear. This is Laughing Planet, I don't know if you guys are familiar with that company, but I go there and I ask them, "Can I take my food to go in my own containers?" And they said, "Yes." I go there and I get my food to go in my own containers and I bring it back to my office and eat it there. Or you could bring this with you if you plan on bringing your leftovers home as well, so then you don't have to take that food carry out item and then waste it later. All right, and as I mentioned before, in my opinion, I don't think there's such a thing as a zero waste lifestyle. If you follow these five Rs, one of them was recycle and as I mentioned before recycling is even wasteful. Don't get this idea that zero waste is your ultimate goal. I think that it's not really obtainable right now in our day and age just because of how the American hustle is so reliant on convenience and disposability. You can try to adopt a low waste lifestyle. This is a journey, not a destination. You can work on this as fast and slow as you want. You can make these small swaps in your everyday life to actually make a huge difference in our environment. How many of you think that zero waste is a harsh word? How many thing you can obtain zero waste lifestyle? Exactly, right? What about a low waste lifestyle? Right, okay, that's a little more gentle. Right? All right. Okay, so let's get into the campus refill initiative. I started my journey back in 2014. I read in the book that you can have refill options for household cleaners, shampoo, and conditioner, you just have to find a refill shop. Of course, I google "refill shops in Reno, Nevada." And of course, there was none. I was like, "What am I supposed to do? I really want to refill." So I just thought to myself that this was a really good business idea, because I think hopefully people will soon want the same things as me. Eventually over time, I actually started up my own company. The parent company is Black Rock Refill, where I service the Reno area. I was servicing the Reno area, and then I had an idea. I was like, "Well, our younger generation such as first time college students, they're living in their dorms or they're living in their first apartments for the very first time. They're making their own decisions outside of their parents homes. Why not educate them on these sustainable practices and then hopefully after they graduate they will continue these practices, and this will make a difference in our environment. I approached the student store on campus and asked them, "Hey, would you be interested in offering these refillable and reusable products to the students and we can also have an educational component to it so the students understand what these products are and how they effect our environment?" And all this stuff. The manager really liked the idea, and she's been on board since day one. We opened up last August for the fall semester. They opened up their second student store on campus, which was on the first floor of the new residence hall. It's a very convenient location. If you run out of laundry detergent you can just run right down stairs and get your refill. This is a video that my student team and I have made. It's just one minute and I just wanted to show you what we have done so far with this video. Campus refill initiative is an alternative to single use plastic. In addition to that, we also have refill options for household cleaners, laundry detergent, floss, just a bunch of things that you can use in your everyday life. We're just bringing more awareness of recycling, sustainability, reusing things. We want to ultimately get rid of single use plastic. That's why we have snack bags you can reuse as well as utensils so you don't have to go through a bunch of plastic ones when you eat out. Instead, you can just bring your own. The campus refill initiative is located at both Nevada Wolf Shop locations. The main one at the [inaudible 00:21:32] as well as the south location located in the new Great Basin residence hall. So, yeah, again, the problem we are addressing is plastic pollution. Only 10% or less of plastics are effectively recycled. So, recycling is not a solution to plastic pollution. Our solution is reusing and refilling. Here is my team at the UNR campus. We have Haleigh, she's our product model but also our student ambassador. We have a couple more ambassadors. Corie Moe is the associate director of the Nevada Wolf Shop. She has been on my side the entire time. She was my reference to this award, and I just absolutely love her so I just want to thank her. Shari is our business advisor, because I don't really know much about business. She's been helping me with projections and all that good stuff. Sierra, she is our undergraduate student liaison. She is the director of sustainability. She helps me talk to the student body and clubs on campus, so she's been on my side since day one as well. Here are some of the products that I sell on and off campus. Our biggest sellers are the reusable. The reusable bamboo utensils and the reusable snack bags. I just showed you the final straw that you can bring with you on the go. We have our refillable laundry detergent right here, so you just buy the initial canister, which is made of cardboard. Then you can buy the pre weighed refills in a paper bag. You can recycle or compost the paper bag once you refill the canister with it. The floss that I went over with you guys a little earlier, bamboo toothbrushes, the reusable produce bag I showed you. And then here is our beeswax food wraps. Here is an example here. It's actually just a cloth with beeswax on it. It replaces saran wrap. It adheres to itself and it just stays that way, so you can actually wrap your produce in it. I wrap my strawberries in it and just take it on the go. You can reuse it, you just simply wash it with cold water because hot water will melt the wax, and a gentle soap. It's reusable up to a year or longer depending on how often you use it. Those are our best sellers. We have made a great impact I believe in our environment. Based on our sales, I can calculate how many plastic utensils we prevent from going to either a landfill or our environment as well as plastic snack bags, dryer sheets. This is the impact we have made in just 2019 alone. We've prevented over 7000 plastic utensils from entering our landfills or our environment and so on. We're still counting because we're getting sales everyday. Just wanted to share that with you guys. So, are you guys ready to break up with single use plastic with me? I'll take any questions at this time if you have any. No questions? Oh, there. Yes? That was a great presentation. Thank you. Congratulations. I applaud you in your passion and your entrepreneurship. I have been challenged, and I'm gonna challenge you so you can help me, we do a lot of what you talked about in the presentation but you probably know, having studied molecular biology and working in a laboratory, there's a ton of single use plastics. Yes. We need to come up with some kind of solutions to get rid of those. I would ask you to look at that. We do something very unique here, we actually recycle and repurpose all of our biological waste. So it's turned into plastic which is used for low grade construction products. That's just one aspect of what comes out of the laboratory. But before I retire I'd like to be able to say I checked the box for all the things my CEO has asked me to look at. If you can help me with that, and I'll talk to you later about what we do here. Yeah. So, there is a lot of green lab initiatives going on. For labs, I focus mainly on household waste 'cause it's a lot easier. There are a lot of green lab initiatives going on, so you guys can look into those. Then there's more technology coming out these days. I know there's actually a pipette tip wash machine, so you can ... You have to buy their pipettes and their machine, and their tips, but basically when you're done with it you just put it in this machine, it washes it, and then you can reuse the pipette tips. They are coming out with more and more advancements. It just takes time. Like I said, we're all on this journey together and we're all working hard towards it. Hopefully we'll do a good job with that. Also, I didn't mention this in my presentation but we are trying to expand to other university campuses just by offering these products either to their student stores or direct delivery. They can purchase the products online and then they'll get delivered to their mail room on campus. We also give back to the student body, so we actually give 5% of the sales back to clubs on campus. They are actually promoting on their giveback program to their universities. We have reduced the retail prices to fit a student budget. I don't want people to think that these products are expensive because they shouldn't be. They really shouldn't be. We have made it affordable for the students. The word campus can be applied to any university, or school, or organization. We are actually reaching out to the corporate campus as well. We are offering our products online and deliveries will be made to their work campus. Again, 5% of sales will be donated to a non-profit of their choice. We are trying to expand to meet more than just the student, but also the working class and just everybody, 'cause everyone is on this journey. Any other questions? Yes. So, you shared a lot of consumer products that I've never seen before. Where are you finding manufacturers? How do you do that? I do a lot of research online. Fortunately, actually I found a lot of my products through Facebook ads because I like all of this environmentally friendly green stuff, so they just pop up and I'm like, "What is this?" So I research it and I was like, "Wow, this is a good fit for my business." I contact them and make sure that everything fits my mission. Yeah, I've just been online and finding them slowly as we go. A lot more is coming out. There was just a Kickstarter a couple weeks ago for the last swab. They're making a reusable cotton swab. It's made from rubber, but you simply just wash it after you use it and you can reuse it. I signed up for that Kickstarter so I can start selling those as well. Like I said, we're all on this journey together. More and more people are jumping on, and they're coming up with these great inventions. Yeah, I'm gonna try to be the first to start selling those. Any other questions? Yes. One more. Have you look into the impact, the environmental impacts, of the water usage in producing these things as opposed to using something that's recyclable? I'm thinking of the [inaudible 00:30:07]. Mm-hmm, yeah. So, I haven't looked too much into that. There's a lot to look at when going about all of this. Yeah, I've only looked at the environmental impact we make by actually switching, so how much plastic pollution are we preventing from entering our oceans. But that is a good question, and I do know that the dishwasher takes less water than hand washing. When you do wash your dishes I just know that to have a full load in the dishwasher and use the dishwasher rather than washing by hand. That will help a lot too with reducing the water usage, but I don't know specifics. I just have two quick comments, really fast. One, I can tell you that definitely the water usage for creating new things that you use over, and over, and over again is way, way lower than single use plastic. My roommate is also super into plastic reduction, so I hear about this all day every day. And then in terms of the science reusable plastic, we can look to the past a lot for things that we can reuse. Our lab was very broke for a good part of my graduate school career, so we used glass petri dishes. They work great. There's nothing wrong with them as long as you don't need to take pictures of them and glass serological pipettes are also great. I think biotech is in a really kind of position to push this stuff. If you guys have a sustainability line that you want to push to labs or advertise I think that would be something you guys really have a power to help. Thank you. So, Sammy isn't presenting this afternoon, but maybe you can bring some of your products downstairs just to share with everybody. Of course. Okay, thank you so much and we'd like to give you your award.

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