Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Landfill Gas to Energy

Waste management companies such as Allied Waste and Waste Management are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to produce electricity from methane gas released in their landfills. In the past, methane gas released from decaying material in landfills was simply burned off to the atmosphere. But there is growing investment in capturing methane to generate electricity. There are now over 200 plants that capture methane gas from landfills to produce electricity and the companies plan to continue to expand these operations.

Understandably the waste companies spin this as part of their sustainability efforts. Typically the companies will highlight how they are recapturing this wasted greenhouse gas to generate electricity and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There is truth to this and sales representatives are good at using this in their pitch. They will put you at ease with the 180 tons of waste your organization generates each year because it is going to generate electricity. While it is true that electricity will likely be derived from our decaying waste, the massive amounts of waste we generate still is something we need to worry about.

The waste generated at Lasell College does make it to a landfill that captures methane gas to produce electricity. Of course this plant is located somewhere in South Carolina! Our waste is loaded up on trains every night in Boston and hauled down to landfills in South Carolina. The costs of hauling the waste south on trains and dumping it into landfill there are less than utilizing landfills in the northeast.

I completely support the idea of capturing methane gas from landfills to produce electricity. However I also recognize that we waste too much in this country. We should not feel at ease with our waste generation patterns because we know it will help produce electricity.

Waste management companies are increasing their offerings of recycling services to fill a demand. This will help keep material out of landfills but it will not reduce our waste generation. We cannot rely on waste management companies to find solutions on how to reduce and reuse our waste though. Remember we pay them to take our waste (recycling and trash) by the ton.

Reducing our waste in the first place is the real challenge. We need to pressure manufacturers to minimize packaging. We need to buy less and share more. We need to eliminate the thow away culture that has taken control of our communities. At Lasell College, coffee cups and water bottles are two of the leading materials that end up in our waste. There is a simple solution, reusuable mugs and bottles, for both of these but we have not been able to create that culture yet. There are some college campuses where you risk being mauled if you are seen carrying a paper coffee cup to class. How do we get to that point?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Biofuels and Cropland Requirements

Today in my environmental science class we are working through a series of calculations to estimate the amount of cropland it would take to produce enough ethanol to satisfy American's thirst for oil. The average American uses about 25 barrels of oil per year. Some rough estimates:
-25 barrels is about 146,200,00 Btu
-It takes about 1124 gallons of gasoline to produce this equivalent in Btu
-To produce this Btu equivalent would take 1843 gallons of ethanol
-It take about 737 bushels of corn to produce this much ethanol
-It takes about 6.7 acres of land to produce this many bushels

So the average American needs 6.7 acres of corn producing land to satisfy their oil thirst. The rough estimates get more fun. Let's multiply the 6.7 acres of land needed by the number of Americans and we get somewhere around 2 billion acres. How many acres of cropland is there in America? About 435 million acres. The entire land area of the United States is 2.262 billion acres.

Environmental studies students at Lasell quickly start the see the issue with biofuels. While biofuels may help supplement our liquid fuel needs it certainly is not a solution. Where will the carrots (83,000 acres), strawberries (51,000 acres), and wheat (55,000,000 acres) grow?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Look and Feel of Single Stream

Lasell College is almost done transitioning to a single stream recycling system. The transition has presented many challenges but I think we are making good progress. For example, the single stream system expands the materials that can be recycled so much that the small "Slim Jim" recycling containers are not big enough. This is a good thing but an issue we had to address. Our solution- use 30 gallon garbage cans lined them with blue bags. The blue bag is the symbol of recycling at Lasell.

At the end of one day we noticed a lot of trash ending up in the blue bags. I guess it still looks too much like a garbage can even with the stickers and posters. My leadership class came up with a clever solution and I think this may work. We placed flags on the bins attached to wood dowels. Now a flag hangs over the recycling bin making it abundantly clear that this is a recycling bin and not a garbage can.

Next week we will continue to monitor progress. I think there is a lot of energy and excitement for the new system. Students appreciate the opportunity to recycle more of their waste. Students have been active across campus trying to educate the community. There is now a nice display in the window of Wolfe Hall. Bulletin boards and recycling stations are now decorated to promote our recycling system. The presence of recycling on campus is building and I think the culture is going to take hold.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What did you recycle yesterday?

Lasell College launched our new single stream recycling system yesterday. What did you recycle? Did you take advantage of the opportunity to recycle your cereal box? How about your laundry detergent bottle? The new single stream recycling system significantly expands the types of materials that can be recycled at Lasell College. And all of the materials can be placed in the same container!

Under our previous recycling system, campus members only had the opportunity to recycle paper, cans, and bottles. Now we can recycle cans, milk cartons, books, bottles, newspaper, cereal boxes, cardboard, notebooks, all plastic numbered 1-7, and many more materials. Campus community members now have the opportunity to recycle most of their waste. The challenge now is to change behavior and get students, faculty, and staff into the habit of recycling.

We now have the opportunity to recycle plastics numbered 1-7. What does this mean? Take a look a the bottom of any plastic container and chances are it has a number between 1 and 7. Water bottles, milk bottles, shampoo bottles, ketchup bottles, mustard bottles, yogurt containers, butter tubs, and clear food packaging all can be recycled. Take a look at the bottom of your waste and determine if it can be recycled.

Yesterday I recycled a tissue box, a cardboard box, empty envelopes, and some junk mail. The only trash I generated yesterday during my 9 hours at Lasell was a napkin at the dining hall and a banana peel. Faculty and staff should quickly recognize that they do not need trash bins in their offices and should convert their bins into recycling containers. Students in the residence halls should consider a similar transition. With the new single stream recycling system you should be able to recycle over half of your waste. Consider this a challenge. Can you do it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All Together Now

Next week we will begin the conversion to a single stream recycling system across the Lasell College campus. A lot of people have put in some hard work to make this conversion happen. We are hopeful that the conversion will simplify recycling and significantly increase our recycling rates. The physical resources will be in place, the custodial staff will be trained, and we will be launching a major education campaign in an effort to make recycling part of our culture at Lasell. By providing the community with the opportunity to easily recycle more materials and by providing educational materials, we hope the campus community will embrace single stream recycling and make this program a success.

A tremendous amount of work still has to be done but I want to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of several campus members. Many people have been hard at work trying to make the single stream recycling system a success.

Tom Koerber, Director of Plant Operations, pursued the single stream option with the right level of caution. He took time to gather information to make sure a single stream system was best for Lasell. He negotiated the best possible contract with haulers and has hired a staff member to handle our recyclables.

Linda Williams, also in Plant Operations, has served a pivotal role in converting Lasell to the single stream system. Once the decision to convert to a single stream system was made, Linda has been busy preparing the physical resources the system will require. From ordering colored bags to printing stickers, Linda has been hard at work getting ready to re-purpose trash bins into recycling containers. There are a ton of trash bins around campus and Linda is starting the challenging process of associating all trash bins with a recycling container.

Kayla McKenna spent about a week of her winter break designing the single stream poster for Lasell. I think the design is great and the posters provide a concept that will be repeated across campus in all our educational efforts. The posters will be placed near all the recycling containers on campus so community members know how to recycle properly.

Lasell College now has a great recycling logo thanks to Samantha Crisman. Samantha also worked hard over winter break to design this logo. The logo has been printed on stickers and will be displayed on recycling containers around campus.

There was quite a debate about the appropriate recycling system for Lasell and Professor Toffler played a critical role in helping us reach a final decision. He spent time researching the pros and cons of different recycling systems and brought together the appropriate people to discuss. Professor Toffler has a passion for the environment and has done a great job energizing students on campus about sustainability issues.

Amy Greene recruited and trained students to serve as Sustainability Stewards. These students will have a presence on campus and be ready to educate fellow students about our new recycling system.

Scott Lamphere, Director of Residential Life, scheduled a recycling session during RA training. This provided a great opportunity to educate leaders in the residence halls about the new recycling system. Scott has also lead the bulletin board effort. Bulletin boards across campus will have a consistent look that presents our new single stream recycling system.

Students in my Leadership class are currently initiating leadership projects to make the single stream recycling system a sustainable success. Students are taking on projects to decorate recycling station areas, increase signage in the residence halls, produce marketing materials to promote the system, obtain recycling totes for student rooms, and many more clever ideas. They have a lot of energy and will play a big role in helping to create a green culture at Lasell.

This is just a sample of the many people hard at work trying to make the single stream system a success. It is going to take a campus wide effort to really make this system work. I encourage you to thank the people working hard on the recycling system and ask them how it is going. I also encourage campus members to step up and take on a leadership role to help us reach our sustainability goals. Whether you are a student, faculty, or staff member, we can find a way for you to help.