This Bioplastics Entrepreneur Wants to Save the World from Plastic Waste

Bioplastics innovator Julianna Keeling thinks a lot about creating a healthier planet. It’s something she’s been thinking about most of her life. “My parents taught me to respect people and the natural environment,” she said.

Growing up near Richmond, Virginia, Keeling, a 2019 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University, took annual trips to Maine with her family. While hiking through Acadia National Forest, she said, “I would pause to press my hands onto the trunks of vibrant, strong trees and into the fertile soil, feeling its energy. I remember being in awe of the raw earth and feeling as though I was part of it. I’ve maintained that sense of being one with the planet since then.”

Keeling has turned that passion for the environment into a profitable business creating products that look and perform like plastic but break down like plants. Her company’s single-use bioplastic products are engineered to break down in sea and river water and the soil for consumers who want to reduce the nearly eight million tons of plastic waste polluting Earth’s oceans each year — not to mention the tens of millions of tons of land-based plastics.

Keeling began her business—Terravive, or “the Earth sustains itself”—in the spring of 2015 as a first-year student at Washington and Lee. But she had been thinking about and planning it since high school. “I was accepted into Henrico County’s STEM specialty program, and my first project looked at methylcellulose. As a result, I became aware of naturally occurring materials that could be as effective as plastics with similar performance characteristics.”

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art.

Terravive is a supplier of biodegradable tableware (cutlery, cups and bowls), various sizes of straws, resealable bags for food, trash bags, shopping bags, adhesives (stickers and clear masking tape) and industrial films. Most Terravive bioplastics products will break down in 90 days or less in a residential or commercial compost pile, ocean, river or soil.

Terravive has rapidly established its brand as the preeminent supplier of green plastic products. “When people see the Terravive brand on any product, anywhere in the world, I want them to think high-quality bioplastic that is better for you and the environment,” Keeling said.

Keeling took a gap year between her first year and sophomore years to work in San Francisco, where she said she “learned valuable lessons from its vibrant technology ecosystem.” With help from the former chief of research and development for PepsiCo, Keeling learned how to find and work with manufacturers on biodegradable packaging products. She was focused on both sustainability and reduction of corporate disposal expenditures.

See a complete listing of Terravive’s bioplastics products here.

this photo illustrates the huge need for bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment

Bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment could dramatically reduce plastic waste worldwide.

Back at W&L, Keeling continued to work on her bioplastics business. After graduation, she became one of eight start-up company owners accepted into the highly competitive Target Incubator program.

“Target is a socially minded, brand-conscious and forward-thinking company,” said Keeling. The company wants to be more attractive to Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers and strategically selects start-ups for the incubator program that are solving issues that Target faces. The four-month program combines virtual programming with an eight-week residency at Target headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the residency, Keeling received mentorship, met with subject matter experts and participated in tailored workshops and team-building exercises, “all geared toward healthy, high-growth company operations while keeping the consumer’s needs forefront.”

Related: 15 tips for zero-waste beginners

In Richmond, she works with a second incubator program, Lighthouse Labs, that is focused on helping her build the Terravive brand and infrastructure of the business for sustained growth. She just hired an experienced entrepreneur as COO. Joe Swider is a mechanical engineer, graduate of VMI and a former U.S. Naval officer. He is working on corporate strategy, building out the team and operational infrastructure in order to scale the business. Currently Terravive supplies products to retail, restaurants, universities, government entities and other businesses.

Keeling stays hands-on with the business, often dealing with distribution herself seven days a week. She also oversees marketing and sales, focusing on extending the brand and the positive ecological impact of her products. “It involves hustling and calling people up. It’s not a hard product to sell,” she said, “because potential customers find they don’t have to spend more than they currently do on plastic products, yet they can have an immediate impact on the environment.” When taking into account the cost of disposing of plastic products, many customers can actually reduce their expenditures with bioplastics.

Balancing rigorous organic chemistry, biology and environmental studies courses at W&L and starting a company while in college was “really challenging,” said Keeling. “It was time- and resource-intensive. I sacrificed a lot.” She is grateful for the Johnson Scholarship, which “gave me the flexibility to choose what I was really passionate about.” The merit scholarship “afforded me the ability to take intellectual risks and really consider what I wanted to do with my life.”

Related: EarthSuds’ shampoo tablets could replace single-use plastic bottles in hotels

She said she appreciates the support offered by Robert Humston, John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and professor of biology and her advisor. “He was awesome and awarded me the Earle Bates Prize,” given to a graduating student who has shown excellence in academics, co-curricular activities, and contributions to the campus and community.

Kim Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education, worked closely with Keeling on composting research at W&L. As a result, “I saw first-hand how Terravive products break down.” This winter, Hodge and Keeling will co-present their research at the U.S. Composting Council.

Finally, a Spring Term class that took Keeling to the Lakota Indians’ Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota taught her that “our time on earth is not just about making money. We are tied to larger systems—other people and animals.”

Keeling has taken her life’s experiences—from hikes in Acadia to composting at W&L to learning the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world at Pine Ridge—and crafted a purpose and direction in life that will not only sustain her but also will help sustain the planet. “We at Terravive have an opportunity to build a high-growth, profitable business that moves the needle and creates a healthier planet for future generations.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

Student Turns Trash into Stunning Sustainable Art

Before you toss that old wine bottle or cardboard box in the trash, give it a second look: Just because it’s empty doesn’t mean it has served its only purpose. For Bella Almeida, a student at Duke University and founder of eARThy Creations, many discarded items have the potential to become gorgeous sustainable art—and to make money for the artists themselves.

Almeida, who majors in Public Policy and minors in Chinese, attended the Sullivan Foundation’s study-abroad program in Prague this past summer and went home with an innovative idea for a social enterprise with a sustainable art focus: creating a network of college artists who turn used materials—many of which would otherwise end up in landfills—into objects of beauty and lasting value.

Related: Artists with disabilities create sustainable art out of old bicycle wheels

“Originally, I simply wanted to start a club at my school that allowed me to express my creative side and make a difference for an issue that really mattered to me—the environmental crisis,” said Almeida, who’s also working on her undergraduate certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke. “However, when I went to the study-abroad program and was pushed to think in terms of an ‘enterprise,’ I realized that the idea for eARThy Creations could be converted into a business model through the sale of the pieces.”

this photo illustrates the beauty of sustainable art pieces created by earthy creations

These painted wine bottles were created in a student workshop hosted by eARThy Creations.

As she talked about it with her Sullivan Foundation classmates in Prague, Almeida realized she was onto something that could spread far and wide. “The interest shown by my classmates in starting the same club at their respective universities encouraged me to think of eARThy Creations as something that could be a college chain with an online center/connector.”

Related: Join the Sullivan Foundation for our next summer study-abroad program in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2020

The mission-driven enterprise is already off to an impressive start.  Almeida describes eARThy Creations as “an organization dedicated to directing the attention of students—the citizens of the future—to the problem of mismanaged waste through art.”

Every day Americans throw away millions of items that could be reused, recycled or repurposed. Mismanaged trash can end up as pollution in the world’s oceans or accumulate on beaches, harming physical habitats and wreaking havoc on biodiversity. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plastic waste is a major offender, often getting transported by rivers to the ocean and moving with the currents. Birds and fish eat the plastic waste, building up toxic chemicals in their body tissues and filling their stomachs, ultimately causing them to starve to death.

Related: How to throw a zero-waste sustainable holiday party

As The Guardian reported earlier this year, a report by Tearfund determined that up to 1 million people die each year due to mismanaged waste, especially plastic pollution. Since plastic waste doesn’t break down naturally in the environment, it can block waterways and cause flooding, which can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases. Burning plastic waste also releases harmful toxins into the environment.

Almeida believes sustainable art can play a role in raising awareness of mismanaged waste and its environmental impact. She and her eARThy Creations team, Art Curator Abby Shlesinger and Art Director Alana Hyman, host weekly workshops in which any student, regardless of artistic ability, can learn to create sustainable art out of used materials. And the art is frequently stunning: painted flowers blossoming in wine bottles, colorful portraits on discarded cardboard boxes retrieved from a dumpster, Halloween-themed pots made of plastic bottles with exotic succulents peeking out.

this photo illustrates another type of sustainable art: cardboard portraiture

Artists’ self-portraits painted on cardboard will be featured in an eARThy Creations exhibit at Duke this month.

“Eventually, we plan to venture into larger projects,” Almeida says. “For example, making sculptures of people out of plastic bottles and sitting them on benches around campus as a way of garnering attention for the environmental crisis.”

Related: Billie Eilish will make her new world tour “as green as possible”

The organization has planned an art exhibit this month featuring artists’ cardboard self-portraits. “We plan to have another exhibit next semester with sculptures made out of broken pieces of various used materials based on the theme, ‘Shattered Earth,’” Almeida added.

Students featured in the exhibits will also be encouraged to sell their pieces on the eARThy Creations website. “The website essentially functions as an online art gallery for art made out of used materials,” Almeida said. “Just like in an art gallery, for each piece sold, the student artist receives 50 percent, and the other 50 percent goes toward operational costs. With the profits, we plan to help support the projects of budding eARThy Creations organizations at different universities.”

Almeida said the Sullivan Foundation’s study-abroad program was “a transformative experience that really helped me develop my business idea by teaching me to identify and research the problem, define a mission, assess costs and competition, set milestones, and determine a measure of impact before implementation. The program also helped me believe in myself and in my idea because I received a lot of encouragement and support from students and professors alike.”

this photo shows the eyecatching earthy creations logo at the John Lennon Wall

How Tuition-Free College Works at Berea and ALC

A tuition-free college education isn’t easy to find in the U.S., but if free is all you can afford, look no further than Sullivan Foundation partner schools Berea College and Alice Lloyd College.

These tuition-free colleges, both located in Kentucky, were featured in a recent article on The article explains how their tuition-free work-college models came into existence and how they’ve managed to thrive even as other higher-education institutions have struggled to keep tuition costs under control.

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers college study-abroad opportunity in Scotland for Summer 2020

Berea College was founded by a Presbyterian minister/abolitionist in 1855 as the first racially integrated and coeducational college in the American South. Berea went tuition-free in 1892 because so many students couldn’t afford to pay. In 1920, as NPR reports, its board of trustees created an endowment that has since ballooned to $1.2 billion. The profits from its investments help to educate low-income students, mostly from Appalachia, for free. That means students can graduate with little or no debt while getting a high-quality college education.

NPR notes that it can take decades, even up to 75 years, for an endowment like Berea’s to be able to fully fund a tuition-free college education. When Alice Lloyd founded the institution that bears her name in the early 1900s, she took a different route. For her students, free college actually meant hard work from the start, as they and their families provided the labor to build and staff the campus. Today, Alice Lloyd College boasts about 600 students, mostly from low-income Appalachian families, and 85 percent of the alumni return to live and work in Appalachia.

this photo shows a group of low-income students at one of the country's few tuition-free colleges.

Students enjoy the activities of Giving Day and Opening Convocation at Berea College, one of the country’s few tuition-free colleges.

TaLaura Mathis, who is working on her degree in biology at ALC and then plans to study dentistry, wants to do exactly that. “Where I come from, it’s very poverty-stricken,” Mathis told NPR. “I really want to help blue-collar, hard-working people that just can’t afford dentistry.”

To keep tuition free for students from Alice Lloyd College’s 108-county service area, ALC has “a decent endowment” of around $44 million, NPR reports. ALC also does a lot of fundraising to make sure new buildings are fully funded before construction even begins. Meanwhile, professors teach heavier class loads than they would at other schools and don’t receive tenure.

this photo depicts a graduate of Alice Lloyd College, a prominent tuition-free college in Kentucky

ALC student TaLaura Mathis

As work colleges, Berea and ALC both require students to work at least 10 hours a week. The Atlantic has described Berea’s labor requirements as “work-study on steroids,” with students handling everything from janitorial services to website production and managing volunteer programs. As of the Atlantic’s October 2018 article, 45% of Berea graduates had no debt, while others had an average of less than $7,000 in debt.

ALC’s website states that “no student has ever been turned away from Alice Lloyd College due to an inability to pay.” It adds that ALC “is consistently listed among the nation’s leaders in graduating students with the least amount of average debt.”

Can other schools learn from Berea College and Alice Lloyd College? It depends. NPR suggests the work college model is “best suited for smaller institutions” since it’s not always feasible to create mandatory jobs for students at schools with relatively high enrollments. However, larger schools that want to lower tuition or offer a tuition-free or reduced-tuition education “could try a hybrid of the work-college model,” with smaller working programs offered along with other forms of financial aid.

Freshmen Dig Deep to Touch Lives in Week of Community Service at Brenau University

By Kristen Bowman

Brenau University freshmen had the opportunity to touch the lives of people in Hall County, Georgia, through a variety of community service projects during the week of Oct. 21.

Students in the First-Year Experience, commonly known as FYE, packaged Christmas goodie bags for families in need, prepared art therapy kits for survivors of domestic violence, wrote cards to survivors of sexual assault, worked with preschoolers on hands-on learning activities, packaged gifts for veterans, made toys for shelter dogs and much more.

Participating organizations in the Brenau community service project included Family Promise of Hall County, the Salvation Army, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, Elachee Nature Science Center, the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Rape Response and the Brenau Child Development Center.

Angel Jackson from Rape Response, which serves sexual assault survivors, said the Brenau students making cards for her clients would have a greater impact than they know. “We meet survivors at any point in their journey,” she said. “Whether it was something that happened a few minutes ago or 80 years ago. So these students are creating cards with nice messages for either the 13-year-old or the 80-year-old survivor who is telling us for the first time that something happened to them. These are messages of empowerment that survivors really need to hear, especially at the point when they finally decide to disclose.”

this photo illustrates the intersection between local children and the Brenau University student body

As part of a weeklong Brenau University community service project, freshman students worked with local preschoolers in the Brenau Child Development Center. Photo by AJ Reynolds/Brenau University

Freshman English major Hannah Bowman created two cards for Rape Response clients — one with a butterfly and one with a garden scene. “Butterflies are kind of important to me — I actually have a tattoo of one — and I’m going to write to them and say, ‘This butterfly symbolizes growth and transformation, and I know you might need that right now,’” Bowman said. “I know the last thing they want is a reminder, so I’m going to try to keep it simple but remind them they can grow from this.

“This honestly means a lot to me,” she added. “I myself am a survivor of sexual assault, so this is personal. I’ve gone out of my way to research and look into this stuff. It’s so important; it is something that happens way too often. I want to do all I can to support the people it happens to and to know how to stop anything I see that starts to happen.”

Jackson said she’s seen survivors bring their cards to court and pull them out right before testifying for reassurance. “They’ll keep it on the stand as a tangible, ‘I got this. I can do this. I can testify,’” she said. “Especially for our littler ones, for them to know that someone wrote something to them who doesn’t even know them, it is really cool to see those reactions and how much it means to them.”

Brenau students made Christmas goodie bags for locals in need at Family Promise of Hall County. Photo by AJ Reynolds/Brenau University

Freshman dance major Tiffany Kovash worked on Halloween-themed projects with preschoolers in the Brenau Child Development Center. Her class started with a spider cobweb game outside, then moved inside to hear the students sing and dance “their pumpkin song, a great little song and dance with their arms.” “Then we did a project with pumpkins, first examining the pumpkins, letting them see what the insides and seeds are like,” Kovash said. “We helped them color some pumpkins, and then we wrapped up with this fun little project of some pumpkin chunks mixed with a few ingredients to make a pumpkin slime. It’s been fun to see what they like to interact with.”

Another class worked with Lynette Croy from Family Promise of Hall County. They packaged gift bags that will be given to parents who shop at the organization’s Christmas Promise Store, which allows families to shop and purchase Christmas gifts for their children at drastically reduced prices.

The gift bags included confetti, a candle and candies along with an encouraging poem to help the parents remember the important things during the holiday season. A few lines included, “Confetti to remind you to have fun. A Snickers to remind you to take time to laugh. A chocolate Kiss to remind you that you are loved.”

Meanwhile, Political Science Professor Heather Hollimon’s class worked on a few projects for Gateway Domestic Violence Center. “They’re making kits for art therapy group sessions that they do at Gateway,” Hollimon said. “One is called persona dolls, and our students are cutting out all the equipment and parts that are needed for kids to make them and women to make them. They’ll put them together and then do things like write their fears on the tummies or write their goals on the feet, because they are walking to them.”

Blythe Hammond from Gateway said the dolls allow children to talk about their emotions, using the dolls to express some of those things without it being about them. And women at the center use them, too, as “an easy, tangible way to talk about some really hard things.”

Brenau students helped prepare art therapy kits for the clients of Gateway Domestic Violence Center. Photo by AJ Reynolds/Brenau University

Leighann Blackwood from Gateway also had students in Hollimon’s class work on pieces for the shelter’s new gratitude tree.

“This is something we’re going to do in our women’s group, our children’s group and as a staff,” Blackwood said. “It, like trees do, will change over time to reflect what we all are grateful for in each season of our lives. It will let them look back at these memories as well as continue to add to it.”

Freshman health science major Carleigh Mize cut out construction paper leaves for the gratitude tree and deconstructed brown paper bags that will be used to build the trunk at the center. “This is really about giving back to my community,” Mize said. “And it means a lot to me because our sorority’s philanthropy is Gateway. So I’m thankful for any way, any extra opportunity that we can help out Gateway.”

Freshman exercise science major Maddie Thomas is also in Alpha Chi Omega with Mize and a Hall County native. The service project, for her, was a reminder that there is more to her Brenau experience than being a student and a member of the Golden Tigers basketball team.

“For me to give back to the community I live in, it’s just something bigger than playing basketball and going to school,” she said. “To do something about domestic violence — you know, there is a lot of it that goes on that people don’t know about. You could know somebody personally going through that, and you just don’t know. So I think it’s huge for us to have an impact and spread awareness that there are these organizations that can help in these situations.”


Winthrop University to Collaborate on Miracle Park for People of All Abilities

Sullivan Foundation partner school Winthrop University has signed an historic agreement that will allow the construction of a 15-acre park for people of all ages and abilities to play and work, the university recently announced. Called Miracle Park, it’s a public/private project between the university, the city of Rock Hill, S.C., and the York County Disabilities Foundation. The city and Winthrop are providing the land through a low-cost, long-term lease for the park location on Cherry Road.

Developers said Miracle Park promises to bring the joys of recreation to those who might need it most—South Carolinians with mobility challenges, developmental disabilities, and other special needs. The park, when completely built out, will include two Miracle fields, two multi-purpose fields, a special needs playground, and a café that will employ people with disabilities.

Dan Mahony, Wofford’s president, said the nearby park will allow Winthrop students in several academic disciplines to participate in internship and service opportunities. “Diversity and inclusion efforts are important to the Winthrop community, and naturally we are eager to contribute to Rock Hill’s reputation as a city that values recreational opportunities for everyone, particularly those residents who have special needs,” Mahony said.

He noted that in addition to the Richard W. Riley College of Education’s degree programs and Department of Physical Education, Sport and Human Performance offerings, another program to be impacted is Winthrop Think College, which offers postsecondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Also, Winthrop’s Macfeat Laboratory School, which serves preschool and kindergarten students, would gain a fully inclusive park within a mile of its location on the Winthrop campus.

this photo shows the various signees of an agreement to build Miracle Park

Officials from Winthrop University, the City of Rock Hill, S.C. and the York County Disabilities Foundation signed an agreement recently to create Miracle Park in Rock Hill.

Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said Miracle Park won’t have traditional baseball fields and playgrounds. Instead, it will have specially designed fields with inclusive elements that “give every child the chance to play baseball and other sports” and support team membership in the international Miracle League for disabled children. The teams will play on rubberized turf that can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers and provides a safe surface for people with visual impairments and other disabilities.

“For children often unable to join traditional teams, the opportunity to build camaraderie and confidence alongside friends with similar experiences through healthy competition and exercise can be truly life-changing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build lasting memories and life-skills,” Gettys said, adding that the city will manage the day-to-day operation of the park through its Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

In addition to the Miracle fields, the special needs playground will feature amenities far beyond what is typically required by full ADA compliance. Proposed plans include robust accommodation for those in wheelchairs or people with mobility challenges as well as textures and sensory elements for children with developmental disabilities. A planned on-site café will provide unique and capacity-building opportunities for disabled employees within an environment that will be empowering and build a sense of community.

This story was adapted slightly from the original article appearing on the Winthrop University website.

Ole Miss Changemaker Cecilia Trotter Says “Yes” to Risks and New Life Experiences

Risk-taking doesn’t come easily to most of us, but University of Mississippi student Cecilia Trotter believes we can’t live full, rich lives without braving the unknown now and then. Her recent experience with the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, held Oct. 18-20 in Black Mountain, N.C., drove that lesson home for Trotter in a significant way.

“You never really know where life will take you, and this retreat helped me want to say yes to more things in my life and take more risks,” said Trotter, a senior majoring in Public Policy Leadership and minoring in business, journalism and entrepreneurship at Ole Miss, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. “Risks are big for me, too—sometimes I really like to play it safe.”

Related: College students can get hands-on experience with social innovation in Selma, Alabama

Trotter, who hails from Greenville, Miss., was voted Miss Ole Miss by her fellow students this year, so she knows a thing or two about putting herself out there. She designed her campaign platform, called Rebel Heart, “to empower students and create a culture of positivity” while promoting mental health and wellness. Among her many activities on campus, Trotter serves on the Associated Student Body Cabinet and is a past co-director of the ASB’s First Year Experience program. She has also been an Ole Miss orientation leader and a team leader for the Ole Miss Big Event, the largest community service project in the university’s history.

Trotter has attended two Ignite Retreats and traveled to Prague this past summer for a Sullivan-sponsored study-abroad program that focused on leadership and social entrepreneurship. She will also serve as a Sullivan intern at the foundation’s Summer 2020 program, Leading for Social Innovation: Study Abroad in Scotland, which takes place June 4-July 4 in Edinburgh.

The Scotland program, developed in partnership with Arcadia University, features two courses—Leadership by Design and Social Change in Action. The first course emphasizes the practice and tools of leadership, while the second one introduces students to the emerging field of social entrepreneurship and innovation, empowering them to develop their own capacities for solving social problems while learning effective communications and storytelling skills. Students will take part in field trips across Scotland, meeting with social entrepreneurs and helping develop new initiatives to strengthen their ventures.

Related: Sullivan Ambassador Lori Babb aims to use social entrepreneurship and bioethics to change the world

Trotter, who loves to travel, said she “thoroughly enjoyed” her study-abroad adventure in Prague. “I was really excited to travel there as I had never seen any part of Eastern Europe,” she recalled. “I found Prague to be a sweet, little hidden gem. It had its own sense of charm that I have never experienced anywhere else, and I just found myself wanting to explore more every day.”

this photo shows Cecilia Trotter at Ole Miss prior to the Study Abroad in Scotland program

Cecilia Trotter is the current Miss Ole Miss and an intern for the Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad in Scotland program.

“The history of the Czech Republic and the old architecture and buildings made it feel as if you were living in the midst of so many different periods of time while still living your own experience,” Trotter added. “It felt really surreal as I began to see and consider all the different perspectives of both my fellow travelers and the natives around the city.”

Always ready for another overseas adventure, Trotter looks forward to working with the Sullivan study-abroad cohort in Edinburgh next summer. “The great thing about the courses offered through the Sullivan Foundation is that any student can benefit from them,” she noted. “We will all be called or challenged at some point in our lives to be a leader and have opportunities to serve or stand up as a leader. That is why I think it is important to take the [study-abroad] leadership course—so you may have the opportunity to dive deeper into learning about yourself and how you may lead others.”

Related: Sullivan Field Trip students discover the power of creative placemaking to help communities spur economic growth

The Scotland program’s course in social entrepreneurship is also important, she said, “because it focuses on innovative thinking. I found, in my own experience, that the ability to think creatively and innovatively fits any interest. Whether a student is interested in politics, medicine, art, or engineering, this course allows them to take the things they are passionate about and form ideas on how to move their interest forward. I really enjoyed the entrepreneurship course [in Prague] as it has given me insight on how to create and dream in systems, and I already feel like I have a strong system in place. Some students are already really great at that, but being able to challenge yourself while also seeking [innovative ideas] through a new lens abroad is something I find invaluable to education.”

Trotter is still mulling over her career options, but she will most likely earn her law degree next. Over the long term, in true Sullivan changemaker fashion, she hopes to live a life of service to others. “I really do see myself starting in a career with a law degree,” she said, “but also working in projects that will focus more through an entrepreneurial lens that targets the well-being of others and the education of young people.”

Experienced changemakers at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat included (from left): Crystal Dreisbach of Don’t Waste Durham and GreenToGo; Alexis Taylor of 3 Day Startup; Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga Studio; Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET Education; and Abhinav Khanal of Bean Voyage.

In that regard, Trotter took some inspiration from facilitators and guest speakers at the Fall Ignite Retreat. Many of them are successful social entrepreneurs who use the principles of business to improve their communities. Crystal Dreisbach, for example, founded both a nonprofit, Don’t Waste Durham, and a social enterprise, GreenToGo, that focus on sustainability and reducing waste in Durham, N.C. Dreisbach related her changemaking experiences in an Ignite Retreat session attended by Trotter. “It was probably one of the best stories I have heard in my life,” Trotter said. “All of the women who spoke had the most amazing stories.”

Related: Crystal Dreisbach’s GreenToGo makes it easier for restaurants to kick the styrofoam habit

But Trotter was just as inspired by the student changemakers she encountered at the Sullivan event. “We have some really passionate, dedicated and extremely creative and intelligent young adults who, I believe, will do some really great things for our world in the future,” she said. “It is super-empowering to put all of these college students in one small place together for a weekend. People are exchanging ideas and working together to help one another, and it is so genuine … I think that students who are seeking to better themselves and make new and future connections would greatly enjoy this retreat. Even trying it won’t hurt or be a waste of time because I think you will leave with a piece of something that will better you.”

After all, trying is what changemaking is all about, as facilitators like Spud Marshall and Chad Littlefield made clear in their Ignite Retreat sessions. “Spud and Chad really have a way of making the risk seem like a small bump in the road,” Trotter said. “Quite honestly, it probably is, but when you are a young college student with no money and have a lot of ideas in your head with little direction, it seems huge. I think that my experience with the Sullivan Foundation has really helped me stop glorifying the risk and start glorifying the action of moving forward, knowing I could really, really fail in some aspect of life, big or small. I have also gotten to meet some really positive and intelligent people along the way whom I look up to. Sometimes, I feel like college students hear things like, ‘Do not join the real world—it’s a trap.’ But I’m excited to move forward, and meeting people through the Sullivan Foundation has solidified that for me.”


How to Throw a Zero-Waste Sustainable Holiday Party

So you like playing Martha Stewart for the holidays? There’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it doesn’t lead to a lot of unnecessary waste—paper plates, single-use plastic cutlery, extra food that will never get eaten. You can throw an unforgettable bash without creating more garbage for the local landfill if you follow these seven simple tips for a sustainable holiday party:

Send invitations digitally. Sure, printed invitations lend a touch of formality and elegance to any occasion, but let’s face it: No matter how pretty they are, most of them will eventually end up in a trash can. Paperless invitations get the message across in an eco-friendly way, and digital companies and apps like Canva and Punchbowl let you get wildly creative, incorporating animation, music, video and photos into your invites while allowing guests to RSVP online.

Related: The Sullivan Foundation’s Study-Abroad in Scotland 2020 program promises a life-changing experience!

Say no to plastics. If you’re serving food and drinks, plastic appears to be the cheap and easy option, but plastic’s cost to the environment is incalculable. If you don’t have enough real dishes, silverware, glassware, tablecloths and cloth napkins for your sustainable holiday party, consider renting or borrowing these essentials rather than resorting to disposable items. Better yet, serve finger foods so guests don’t even need those plastic forks and spoons and buy plates or bowls made from bamboo or palm leaf—they can be reused several times and then composted.

Play Sustainable Santa. Instead of the usual Secret Santa gift exchange, which merely encourages consumption and more waste, throw a Sustainable Santa party. Ask all of your guests to bring a recycled or upcycled gift or homemade items like sauces and sweets.

this photo shows a type of tree decoration for a sustainable holiday party

For your sustainable holiday party or just for your seasonal decorations, handmade keepsake ornaments are both better for the environment – because they’ll be reused again and again – and have lasting sentimental value.

Avoid processed, packaged food. Yes, we all love Doritos – dang, they taste good. But piling guests’ plates with chips and crackers and cookies from the grocery store means a trash can loaded with plastic packaging. For a truly sustainable holiday party, serve real food made in your own kitchen (or a co-host’s or willing friend’s), including homemade dips, platters of fresh veggies and fruits, soups, etc. If you know cookies will be craved, bake them yourself from scratch!

Have a plan for the leftovers. The best plan is to make sure you don’t prepare more foods than you need, but that’s easier said than done. Let your guests take home some of the excess food, preferably in glass jars or beeswax wrapping.

Related: How did one of America’s greenest college campuses get so green?

Make your own decorations. Again, you’re aiming for zero waste here, so that means you want to avoid the party section at Walmart. If you’ve got a talent for crafts, make your own decorations using materials you already have around the house. If you have no such talent, ask a friend or purchase high-quality decorations that can be reused again and again rather than thrown away once the party’s over.

7. Don’t forget the recycling and compost bins. Place them in obvious areas and make sure they’re clearly marked. Set them up in advance—you don’t want to have to sort through all that garbage at the end of the night. You can even provide multiple recycling bins for plastics, cans and bottles, wet food leftovers and dry compostables.


The World’s Top Plastic Polluters Say They Will Join Fight to Reduce Waste

Coca-Cola is a leading contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis, but now the company says it wants to help solve the plastic-waste problem.

Branded the world’s “most prolific polluter” by Greenpeace last year, Coca-Cola has promised to reduce its contribution to plastic waste, but it won’t give up its addiction to plastic entirely.

After admitting to generating 3.3 million tons of plastic in 2017 alone, the soft drink/water bottler announced in August that it will unveil new packaging, including aluminum cans and bottles, for its Dasani brand of water, according to CNN. Coca-Cola said it will continue to sell Dasani in plastic bottles, too, but the amount of plastic will be reduced through a process called lightweighting.

Coca-Cola says it will also introduce a new type of hybrid bottle consisting of 50 percent recycled plastic and renewable plant materials.

During beach cleanups in 42 countries, Greenpeace conducted “brand audits” to identify companies that contributed to plastic pollution. Leading the list was Coca-Cola, followed by PepsiCo, Nestle, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated and Colgate-Palmolive. The top three companies alone accounted for 14 percent of the “branded plastic pollution” around the world, according to Greenpeace’s “Break Free From Plastic” report.

Greenpeace notes that recycling “is not a feasible solution to the plastic pollution crisis.” Many of the recovered pieces of plastic collected in the cleanups were plastics “that are very difficult or impossible to recycle in most places around the world.” These include polystyrene (PS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), single-layer plastic film (SL) and multilayer plastic bonded materials. Other collected materials, such as cigarette butts, textiles, diapers and sanitary napkins, can’t be recycled at all.

“Multilayer materials—a mixture of plastic and other materials bonded together in layers—are especially pernicious,” the Greenpeace report notes. “These packaging types are common in the form of snack and potato chip bags, shelf-stable packaging and juice pouches.”

“We cannot recycle our way out of this plastic pollution crisis,” the report stated. “We must recognize the responsibilities of corporations and plastic producers to innovate and implement whole-system redesign to make the use of plastic packaging unnecessary.”

this photo shows the rising popularity of refillable water bottles in response to the plastic pollution crisis

In response to the plastic pollution crisis, more people are choosing to use refillable water bottles, prompting a change in policy at major bottled-water brands like Dasani. (Photo from Plastic Pollution Coalition)

The report noted that even when companies use recyclable plastic in their packaging, most of the plastic never actually gets recycled. Bottles made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) may be recyclable, but most of them end up in the trash anyway. One analysis found that “we are producing more than 1 million PET bottles per minute worldwide.” That amounts to more than 525 billion bottles per year, although those estimates are three years old and the number has likely grown since then.

Coca-Cola says it’s “ready to do our part” to reduce plastic waste. As CNN reports, it has promised to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells by 2030. It has also committed to making its bottles and cans out of at least 50 percent recycled material by that same year.

PepsiCo, meanwhile, also seems to be getting the message. The No. 2 soft-drink company said it will start selling its Aquafina water in aluminum cans at fast food and restaurant chains by 2020. It’s also reportedly testing a broader rollout of the aluminum packaging to retail stores.

In another promising move, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced earlier this year that they were withdrawing from the Plastics Industry Association, a major plastics lobbying group. Both companies, along with Nestle, Unilever and Mars, Incorporated, have also signed on to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, meant to address plastic waste and pollution at its source.

For brands like Dasani, a move to more sustainable packaging might be a necessity, especially as many environmentally conscious consumers make the move to refillable water containers instead of buying water in plastic bottles. “We really think about the future of this brand differentiating on sustainability credentials,” Dasani’s brand director, Lauren King, told CNN.


How Did One of America’s Greenest Campuses Get So Green?

It’s not easy being green, but Colorado State University (CSU), labeled by some as the greenest university in the U.S., does it better than most.

CSU was the first American college campus to achieve platinum status under the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) conducted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Established in 2005, AASHE helps colleges and universities strengthen their sustainability efforts and recognizes those campuses that lead the country in green initiatives and practices.

Related: Green is the new black at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College.

So how did CSU earn its platinum status? Here are a few of the ways Colorado State has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability:

  • More than 960 of CSU’s 2,633 for-credit courses are related to sustainability, while an additional 532 non-credit continuing-education courses feature sustainability content. The course offers sustainability-related majors and minors in all eight colleges, spanning across programs in engineering, forestry, public policy, environmental ethics, global and sustainable businesses, soil and crop sciences, and many others.
  • Nearly all (90%) of Colorado State’s academic departments conduct sustainability-related research.
  • In 2014, CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources became the first institution in the nation to offer a Master of Greenhouse Gas Management and Accounting degree, one of several graduate-level degrees with an environmental focus.
  • CSU’s scientists and engineers built the world’s first solar-heated/air-conditioned building.
this photo illustrates the beauty of the Colorado State campus and the success of its sustainability programs

Colorado State achieved platinum status under AASHE’s STARS program rating sustainability efforts on college campuses.

  • The campus has 25 charging stations for electric cars.
  • Colorado State’s Sustainability Leadership Fellows program gives early-career academics the tools and techniques they need to work on the grand challenges of sustainability.
  • Despite a growing student population and an ever-expanding campus, CSU has cut its water use by 24% over the past 10 years.
  • CSU’s 5.3 megawatt solar energy plant stretches across 30 acres and is one of the largest at a U.S. college or university.

Related: Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College leads the nation in on-campus sustainability

  • The university’s scientists partnered with NASA to create the world’s most sensitive cloud-profiling radar, CloudSat. Orbiting hundreds of miles above the earth, CloudSat monitors climate change and global warming activity from outer space.
  • Colorado State’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability offers more than a half-dozen undergraduate and graduate-level courses in subjects ranging from sustainable energy to sustainability and the law.
  • CSU’s Housing & Dining Services provides trayless dining, reducing plate waste at its dining centers by 40 percent, and offers compostable to-go containers, which eliminate 350,000-plus Styrofoam containers from landfills each year. Three of those dining centers have pulpers that collect food and paper waste for composting.

Zero-Waste for Beginners: 15 No-Hassle Tips to Get You Started

Kamikatsu, a tiny village of 1,500 souls in western Japan, has set a big goal for itself: Going zero-waste by 2020. And although residents have gotten close—they recycled about 80 percent of the 286 tons of waste they produced in 2017, according to—it hasn’t been easy.

The villagers have to divide their rubbish into 45 different categories and wash and dry all plastic bags and bottles before they can be recycled. A discarded cabinet or shelf has to be broken up to divide the wood from the metal. And the local government provides no garbage collection for the waste that can’t be recycled—the residents have to transport it themselves to a local facility.

Could other towns follow Kamikatsu’s example? Maybe, but, then again, maybe not. As one resident told, “It works because we’re only 1,500 people here. It would be difficult in a big town with a larger population.”

Still, environmentally minded individuals worldwide are striving to live a zero-waste lifestyle, and there are steps that anyone can take to get there. Here are a few of them:

1. Bid Adieu to Dish Sponges. Sponges collect germs quickly and have to be replaced often. And they’re not compostable or biodegradable, either, so to heck with ’em. Swap sponges out for plastic-free dish-washing brushes with plant-based bristles and compostable brush heads. They work just as well, and they’re not a curse on future generations.

this photo illustrates the need for zero waste for beginners

Zero waste for beginners starts with reducing plastic waste.

2. Pass on Plastic. And we’re not just talking plastic straws, although, yes, definitely say no to plastic straws. According to the Zero Waste Bloggers Network, the average American family takes home 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year! Worldwide, consumers use an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags. Egads! And the vast majority of these bags will never be recycled, so there’s that to be depressed about. But the remedy is simple and quite practical: Switch to reusable grocery bags for your shopping, including washable, reusable mesh bags for your produce, and purchase a refillable water bottle. For storing food, use glass and stainless-steel containers instead of plastic. (More about that later.)

3. Reuse Those Ziploc Bags. You say you’ve already got a pantry full of plastic baggies, and you’re so embarrassed? It’s OK. You can at least reuse them rather than toss them in the trash. Simply fill a used bag with warm, soapy water, clean it out and hang it up to dry. It’s not ideal, but at least you’re getting multiple uses out of a single-use plastic product.

4. Quit Wasting Food. Yes, people are starving in Africa, like your mom always told you. So quit throwing away perfectly good food! You can start by cooking and eating only what you and your family need, including produce with a limited shelf life. Stick to your shopping list at the grocery store and avoid impulse purchases on food you might never actually eat. Compost everything you can, including coffee grounds, fruits and veggies that have gone bad, eggshells and tea bags. If you can’t compost it yourself, freeze it and take it a local farmers market or to a friend who has a garden.

5. Buy in Bulk. Why buy a dozen tiny boxes of raisins (wrapped together in plastic) if you can buy them in bulk and cut back on packaging that needs to be thrown out? Check out your supermarket’s bulk bins for everything from pasta and rice to nuts, flour and dried fruit. Some stores will even let you bring in your own container. And if your store doesn’t have bulk bins, talk to the manager or owner.

this photo illustrates the availability of reusable food containers

Crystal Dreisbach and her team at GreenToGo in Durham, North Carolina, offer a reusable food container service for area restaurants and customers.

6. Invest in a lunchbox. Restaurants tempt us with the convenience of grab-and-go sandwiches and salads with plastic forks and spoons, but disposable lunches generate 100 pounds of trash per person each year. Wrap that ham-on-rye in a cloth sandwich bag and bring your own lunch in a reusable lunchbox instead. Bring your own non-plastic cutlery, too. And if you’re still craving that Caesar salad from your local eatery, talk to the manager/owner and urge them to invest in reusable carryout containers.

Related: This reusable food container service makes it easier for restaurants to kick the Styrofoam habit.

7. Cut Out the Fast Food! Cook at home as much as you can. Fast food means all kinds of wasteful wrapping and containers, from tiny little ketchup packets to beverage cups and burger wrappers. And you know fast food is bad for you anyway. So your belly and thighs will thank you, and Mother Nature will thank you.

Glass jars can be reused for both practical and decorative purposes.

8. Don’t Throw Out Glass Jars. Save them for re-use; as long as you’re not fumble-fingered and prone to dropping them, they’ll last forever. You can use them for food storage (including packing your own lunch for work or school), as cookie/candy jars, or to store non-food items like toothbrushes, pens or spare change. You can also use the smaller ones as water glasses!

9. Speaking of Toothbrushes…Most of us go through several plastic toothbrushes a year. Trade that cheapo toothbrush for one made of bamboo—it might cost a little more, but you’ll get your money’s worth and a lot more.

10. Go Vintage Va-Va-Voom. So you always want to look your best, but you know that “fast fashion” is soooo 2018? Many zero-wasters now buy only second-hand and vintage clothing. You can always find a second-hand clothing store in your area, and some of them are actually social enterprises that serve a good cause while making money. Additionally, many retailers, both online and maybe in your hometown, specialize in sustainable fashion, and a lot of their stuff is pretty amazing. Otherwise, at least buy new clothing made from materials—such as cotton, cashmere, wool and silk—that will naturally decompose.

Related: From Kalkota to Manhattan, Brown Boy leads a sustainable fashion revolution.

11. Do You Really Need That Book? Here’s another tip for sustainability that you might not have thought about. No offense to all you bookworms, but you don’t have to buy every book you want to read. There is still such a thing as a public library, and they still let you borrow books for free. If you’re taking a course, try to find a digital version of the textbook.

12. Look for Eco-Friendly Cosmetics. You can look gorgeous and still protect the environment. There are some zero-waste cosmetic brands on the market, and their number is, thankfully, growing. But in the meantime, remove your makeup with reusable cotton pads instead of disposable makeup wipes. The pads can be thrown in the wash with the rest of your laundry.

this photo illustrates how plastic shampoo bottles can be replaced by shampoo bars in your zero-waste efforts

Based in Canada, EarthSuds is a zero-waste-friendly company that aims to eliminate the 5.7 billion plastic toiletry bottles used by hotels in Canada and the U.S. every year.

13. Switch to Shampoo and Conditioner Bars. They look like bars of soap, but they work like any shampoo or conditioner. Just get the bar wet in the shower, rub it in your wet hair, and it will produce a great lather. And now you can say so long to those big plastic bottles. And while we’re on the subject, quit buying those fru-fru plastic bottles of hand soap! No mas, no mas! They don’t clean any better than regular soap bars, and they’re just one more plastic problem for future generations to deal with.

Related: This student entrepreneur has developed shampoo tablets that could replace single-use plastic bottles used by hotels

14. Discover the Wonders of Baking Soda. You might never actually bake with it, but that’s OK because baking soda has a myriad of other uses that align perfectly with a zero-waste lifestyle. You can use it as toothpaste, detergent for your laundry and kitchen utensils, even as a deodorant.

15. Turn Old Clothes into Cleaning Rags. Old worn-out T-shirts, towels, work shirts—even your underwear—can be repurposed as cleaning rags, especially those made of natural fibers. Cut your worn-out shirts into squares or strips or turn them into handkerchiefs. These old rags even make great baby wipes—just cut them into 5”x5” squares and use them to wipe your toddler’s spaghetti-splattered face (or your husband’s, as the case may be).