Steve Akers: IRC Recycling Rock Star
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
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Steve Akers’ love for the environment stems from his youth. He grew up along beautiful stretches of the Northern California coastline. He passed time reading the 1962 classic Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a novel that launched a national environmental movement. These experiences shape his work today at Indiana University-Bloomington (IUB), where he has worked for nearly 30 years. Akers serves as the Associate Director of Environmental Operations within the Residential Programs and Services Department.
Every year, IUB’s dormitories house upwards of 14,000 students. Akers seizes opportunities to influence the behavior of thousands who cycle through each year. He educates through bulletin boards on every dorm floor, visible recycling containers, and in the weekly “In Touch” e-newsletter.
Beyond educating, Akers creates new innovations that steer students toward tangible outcomes. For example, Akers helped develop a system to collect compost from twelve eateries across IUB resulting in 30-40 tons of food scrap and foodservice items being diverted from landfill each week.
The crown jewel of this composting network is Goodbody Eatery, IU’s first NoWaste dining site on campus. All pre-packaged food containers and service ware are 100% compostable and recyclable, cooking oils are transformed into biofuels, and every piece of food is utilized to minimize food waste.
Akers co-founded the Hoosier To Hoosier Community Sale initiative (H2H), a landfill diversion effort. When students move out of their dorms, they often leave behind items that they cannot take with them or no longer want. The H2H Sale is an annual program that collects reusable items from dorms, cleans and repairs them, and then sells them to other students and community members in the fall.
H2H gathers hundreds of volunteers, raises money for nonprofits, and provides affordable goods for Akers’ community. Over the last ten years, H2H diverted approximately 490 tons of material from the landfill. Additionally, it has raised over $360,000 to fund sustainability at IU, the City of Bloomington, and twelve local nonprofits.
In order to achieve higher diversion rates, Akers knows paradigms must be shifted. As the face of sustainable solutions, he’s often called upon to advise student government and other campus groups. Workgroups are already underway to bring diverse voices and perspectives to the table. His groups are eager to brainstorm IU’s next breakthrough achievement in sustainability.
Written by David Johnson