A Q&A with Daphne Hulse, New Zero Waste Coordinator

Daphne Hulse talking to student volunteers at the Illini Zero Waste basketball game in November 2022. Credit: Mark Herman, iSEE

Facilities & Services (F&S) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a team of talented and dedicated employees who plan, build, maintain, and serve the campus. And along with these services, F&S aims to support the university’s sustainability goals.

Daphne Hulse is F&S’ new Zero Waste Coordinator. In this Q&A, iSEE Communications Intern Kratika Tandon sat down with Hulse and discussed her work in supporting Zero Waste goals on campus.


What are some of the responsibilities that come with your position and what might a day at work look like for you? 

I was told during the interview process that because this is a new position, there really are no bookends yet to this job, which can be challenging but also very exciting. It’s cool to be a part of the process that determines what this position looks like day to day. Starting and ending, I typically respond to and send emails. There are some responsibilities that are consistent, such as tracking and measuring the weight of landfill and recyclable materials that come through campus. This is important for our strategic plans — I have been asked to understand those waste metrics and how they’re changing over time. I would say the middle of the day is where things can diverge greatly. Generally, this is a time when I’m either attending or leading meetings with various students, faculty, and staff on these initiatives to advance objectives for the Zero Waste Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) chapter. This is really the bulk of my work. It’s very collaborative, hence the “coordinator” part of the position. I’m very rarely working alone on a project. Usually there are various stakeholders throughout the process that I’m engaging with, and every now and then, there are some pretty exciting things. For example, there are guided tours that we have at our Waste Transfer Station. The station is where we bring in all of the landfill and recyclable materials. We take the visitors through that, and we talk about the process of collecting, transporting, and sorting this kind of waste. It really helps the people on campus understand waste and where it goes after we put it into the bin. 


You mentioned that you often work with various stakeholders. Could you elaborate a bit on who exactly you might be working with? 

At F&S, we have a Zero Waste team that consists of myself and two interns, and it’s the three of us engaging with these various stakeholders. To give you an example of what that would look like, every spring we have campus move-out, and we really hope to create a consistent plan of action for how to deal with the quantity of waste that we produce at this time of the year. In the past, we collaborated with the University YMCA on that project. They now run their own operation, so it’s part of our responsibility on campus to create a program that could continue for years to come. Part of that process is advancing “town and gown” relations. We ask ourselves how the university can connect with the larger Champaign-Urbana community. We hope to partner with nonprofits or those that take donations. That’s an example, as well as thinking about initiatives like this, which would require the use of volunteers. We’d have to think about who in the community might be interested in assisting with something like a Spring Move Out Collection program. 


Tell me about your background. What does your educational path look like, and what did you study?

I started my educational path on the West Coast in the state of Washington for a year. I attended a university there and studied environmental journalism. I really enjoyed storytelling and writing, and I still really do. But at that moment in time, I started wishing that I could be more like some of the folks I was interviewing who were taking action on climate change and making a difference in their communities. That led me to transfer to Purdue University in Indiana, where I shifted my focus to environmental science, involving some of the more physical sciences and understanding the science behind climate change. So, I focused on that. During that time, I was wondering how I could start getting involved in a local community. If you’re at all familiar with the organization Citizens Climate Lobby, they’re a national nonprofit and they have various chapters throughout the world, who are focused on enacting policy change within U.S. Congress. I started a student group of that at my university at Purdue, and we focused on talking with our representatives and senators. That got me involved in climate change and politics. Just understanding how students can get involved was very enlightening for me. I think that really has shaped my desire to continue wanting to work with students because I think they’re such an integral part of climate change. They’re the future, so we want to make sure we’re carving a path that is healthy and sustainable for them too. 


What sparked your initial interest in sustainability as a broad discipline and potential career choice? 

I first became formally aware of climate change in high school during a junior year environmental science class, and that was the first time where I felt like I was faced with the issue. I had to see it for what it was. It was in that moment that I realized the scope of the problem. I realized there was nothing else I could focus on other than this issue. I could not picture myself working anywhere else than in a position working on climate action. 


What brought you to the University of Illinois specifically, and why did you decide to take this position? 

When I first saw this position posted, the first thing I did was explore the iSEE website, and that’s when I found the Climate Action Plan. I read through that and read through the Zero Waste chapter, and realized that this school is taking sustainability seriously. It was very exciting to see how comprehensive this plan was. It wasn’t just empty words — it was “this is how we’re going to get this done by 2050.” I think it really was humbling to see such progress made at the school, and it made me very excited. I think what really sealed the deal was the people I talked with. In any interview, I ask why they still wake up in the morning and go to their job every day. I asked them, “what makes this a good place to work?” Every single one of them said it was the people that work with the community. And that has stood true. In the four months that I’ve been here, the people have made this such a great job. 


What do you like most about working with F&S? 

The people here have always been so welcoming to those coming in. This is my first full-time job, and they’ve just been very accommodating and kind to work with. I think the mission of F&S of serving the campus community and getting the job done is wonderful to see and wonderful to be a part of. 


What are your career goals within and outside of F&S?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Think Global Act Local” phrase that’s commonly used with climate action. I think that’s true for myself as well within my career. I hope to follow that mindset. I always want to be advancing climate action that helps globally. The way I see that being done is by working within communities such as this campus. At F&S, I hope to be a part of these initiatives, see these changes occur, and grow with this community. That’s my short-term goal. Long term, I hope to see myself always within the environmental industry.


Do you have any recommendations for students, staff, and faculty who are committed to zero waste? What can people do to make a difference on campus? 

My way of thinking with zero waste is that it’s better for the entire community to be pursuing zero waste imperfectly than for one person to be doing it perfectly. Start out small, because I know it can be very intimidating hearing the phrase “zero waste.” It’s really an aspiration and an ambition, and it shouldn’t be treated as an expectation. I think the best way to get involved is to find communities that already exist. For example: this campus community. We have the Zero Waste iCAP team, and I would invite any interested students, faculty, or staff to join in on a call sometime. You get to see what it’s like working collaboratively with people who are interested in implementing these kinds of changes, and to make sure they understand they’re never alone in this in this fight for zero waste. It’s all of us together. 


What are some of your favorite zero-waste tips that you personally implement in your day-to-day life? 

I actually tend to think of zero waste largely as a food approach. Something that we think about more than once a day is food, and so, for me, grocery stores are a big place where we have that agency to reduce our waste. I always say no to plastic bags and bring my own for grocery and produce. I think waste is a very broad term. For example, when you’re choosing to buy a product that was grown locally, there’s a lot of reduced emissions in that purchase versus choosing something that was brought over thousands of miles. I think there are many ways that we can think about waste. 

Visit the Zero Waste iCAP Team page >>>


— Article by iSEE Communications Intern Kratika Tandon