Tufts Gets Green

Office of Sustainability's Blog

Category: Eco-Ambassadors

Tufts Eco-Ambassadors Take on Styrofoam Mountain

Styrofoam seems to be a perpetual nightmare for environmentalists. A petroleum-based plastic foam consisting mostly of air, it can’t be composted or thrown in with most municipal recycling programs, but for many uses it remains the only practical product.

For example, when departments at Tufts order biomaterials, gel packs or dry ice, styrofoam is the only feasible shipping option, as it keeps the materials cool. Enter Emily Edwards, a staff member in the Chemical and Bioengineering Department, and Abbey Licht, a graduate student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, both of whom became Eco-Ambassadors in 2011 at the Science and Technology Center on our Medford campus. They grew curious when they noticed those unmistakable white shipping containers piling up outside labs and classrooms in their hallway: Could they redirect styrofoam away from landfills?

To assess how much actual need existed, Edwards and Licht began collecting the boxes from the SciTech building in a storage room. After just a month, sixty boxes had accumulated.

Hoping that a solution might already exist on campus, they first talked to Dawn Quirk, the Waste Reduction Program Manager in the Facilities Services Department, about recycling the styrofoam shipping containers. Unfortunately, while the Tufts Recycles program accepts a wide variety of glass, plastic, and metal items, styrofoam can’t go into our green bins.

Above: a month of styrofoam.

Edwards and Licht knew of a local company that would recycle the styrofoam. ReFoamIt, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, compacts the styrofoam into logs at a plant in Rhode Island, then ships it away to be turned into toys and other consumer products.  But Edwards and Licht were also aware that the boxes they were storing were at least 89% air. Could they somehow reduce the volume of the styrofoam to make for easier storage and more efficient transportation? If they handled the styrofoam themselves, would the environmental impact be lower than that of ReFoamIt’s trips to Rhode Island?

Both admit that they are first and foremost engineers, not chemists. Still, like students tackling a science class project, Edwards and Licht dove right in. They first experimented with physical change, recruiting volunteers to smash the styrofoam. They employed mallets and even had the volunteers jumping up and down on top of the boxes – but despite how light and airy styrofoam may seem, Edwards says, it’s a much harder material than one would think, and after hours of work there was little significant volume reduction. The exhausted volunteers placed the styrofoam chunks into bags to be picked up by ReFoamIt.

Not to be discouraged, Edwards and Licht next sought to turn the styrofoam back into a hard, dense plastic. Their first method was chemical: they placed pieces of the styrofoam in cups of acetone, which reduced the plastic to a goopy slime that hardened once the acetone evaporated. While the process resulted in a significant volume reduction, one bag of smashed styrofoam boxes required a whole gallon of acetone, which then evaporated into the air, so significant ventilation was required during the experiment. Moreover, the bottom of a tray of the hardening plastic took months to dry.

Above: a bag of styrofoam boxes, and the equivalent amount of hardened plastic after melting in acetone. The ratio of the volumes was about 50 to 1.

Next, Edwards and Licht melted styrofoam in a large oven at 464 degrees Fahrenheit. This experiment also successfully reduced the volume, but the process produced powerful fumes which filled the lab and the connected hallway. Moreover, only a certain amount of styrofoam could fit into the oven at a given time, so Edwards and Licht needed to open the oven periodically to add more foam, losing heat in the process.

Above: the result of melting styrofoam in an oven. The volume reduction was about the same as in the acetone experiment.

Finally, Edwards and Licht investigated alternatives to styrofoam. After hearing a story on NPR, Edwards ordered an Ecovative box made out of a mix of mushrooms and straw grown into a mold. The box’s weight is similar to that of styrofoam, but Edwards notes that the box has a slight smell and an unusual texture that might not appeal to the general public. So while the mushroom box was an interesting innovation, Edwards couldn’t see a widespread application for them at Tufts.

Above: the mushroom boxes from Ecovative.

 

Ultimately, Edwards and Licht determined that the most efficient, affordable and safe way to dispose of the accumulated styrofoam would be to set up a partnership with Save That Stuff, another local recycling company with which Tufts already has a relationship. Quirk organized a monthly pick-up arrangement, and it has been running smoothly ever since.

Above: sacks of styrofoam waiting for Save That Stuff.

Even though they weren’t able to find an effective way to minimize the styrofoam before sending it away, Licht and Edwards seem satisfied with the results. Licht mentions that until they started collecting the boxes in one room, she had never really thought about how much styrofoam the building used or where it all went. (Prior to their initiatives, it all went into the trash.) They seem eager to find where else this model can be applied at Tufts – there are bound to be other sites of potential improvement that go under the radar, undetected until someone dares to ask whether there might be another way.

Moving forward, Edwards and Licht and Tufts Recycles! are hoping to expand the use of the system they have established at SciTech to collect the styrofoam from labs at the Gordon Institute (200 Boston Avenue) and from the biology department.

New Eco-Ambassadors & Eco-Reps + Recyclemania 2013

2013 Medford January Eco-Ambassadors receive their certificates of completion from instructors Tina and Dani

As we continue to thaw out from the snowstorms, the Office of Sustainability is also shaking off its winter hibernation. We would like to congratulate our five new Eco-Ambassadors: Barbara Eisenhaure and Jennifer Carland, both from the Office of the Vice Provost; Sara Hepburn of Technology for Learning in the Health Sciences (within the School of Medicine);  Amey Callehan from Tisch Library; and Elizabeth Erenberg from the Music Department. They are now part of the group of Tufts staff and faculty who champion sustainability in the workplace and serve as “green” resources within their offices or departments.

We are also excited to welcome four new Eco-Reps this spring – “meet” them in the section below and read about what they are up to this semester! You may spot them at Dewick on Wednesdays from 6-7pm promoting Meatless Meals, but look out for Eco-Rep events within the dorms.

RecycleManiaStudent residents who think their dorm/house is the greenest on campus will get a chance to prove it: Tufts is once again competing in the annual RecycleMania Tournament. TuftsRecycles interns will be walking through Tufts dorms and off-campus houses grading recycling efforts. (The exact prize for the winning dorm is still under wraps, but you and your hallmates could win a party with incredible food and entertainment!) Interdorm recycling results and Tufts’ live Recyclemania standings are available online, so check them out and make sure to recycle everything you can – and tell your neighbors!

Finally, please remember that you are always welcome to drop in at the Office of Sustainability! We share a space with the Tufts Institute of Environment and Environmental Studies Program in Miller Hall (across the parking lot from Tufts Hillel). Among many other resources here at the Office, you can compost; recycle your chip bags, energy bar wrappers, batteries, and light bulbs; and even take a spin on a bicycle generator to charge your cellphone. We hope you visit us soon.

Stay Green!
Tufts Office of Sustainability

Chemistry Dept Eco-Ambassador wins grant for 2012

"The talk around the water cooler is about the water cooler."

There’s a new water filter system in the Chemistry Department and they have Eco-Ambassador Sarah Iacobucci to thank for it.

Iacobucci – an Eco-Ambassador from the 2010-2011 class – applied for and won a $200 grant from the Office of Sustainability last summer. She writes, “We had a water filter system installed in a location in which we were told it was not possible to install one. Everyone loves it! We also bought a bunch of water pitchers for the department meetings and they are a big hit, too!”

To be eligible for a grant, Eco Ambassadors need to have attended 8 or more Eco-Ambassador sessions in any year and not have already received a grant. Previous winners include:

  • Jess Warner, Tisch Library: compost bins
  • Anita Robbins, Feinstein Center: Brita water pitchers
  • Carla Walsh, Education: incremental cost of new, energy efficient fridge
  • Kris Thompson, Tisch Library: Eco-grant book contest (which were featured in a library exhibit last spring as part of Earth Week events)

Grant proposals were evaluated on potential impact (How much waste, energy, water is saved and how many people are affected) and the potential to influence follow-up behavior change.

Congratulations Sarah! We look forward to more proposals to help make Tufts a greener workplace.

For more information on the Eco-Ambassador program, visit http://go.tufts.edu/ecoambassadors.

Aug 14: Medford Wind Turbine Tour

Ever wondered what the wind turbine off of Rt 93 looked like up close? This is your chance to find out.

Take a tour with the Medford Energy Department folks and hear about how it was built, listen to it whir and even peek inside! Friends/family are welcome. RSVP now!

The tour will begin at the McGlynn school, where we will first listen to a short presentation about the permitting and installation of the turbine, and then we will visit the turbine up close.

When: August 14, noon

Where: Meet at the Office of Sustainability or at the McGlynn School

Jul 10: Film showing of “YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip”

YERTWhen: Tuesday, at noon

Where: Olin 011

Called to action by a planet in peril, three friends hit the road—traveling with hope, humor, and all of their garbage—to explore every state in America in search of the extraordinary innovators and citizens who are tackling humanity’s greatest environmental crises.

The Office of Sustainability has sponsored a viewing of this film before and is excited to offer those who missed it during Earth Week an opportunity to watch this inspiring, eye-opening docu-comedy.

Read our film review or click here for more information on the film.

Tisch Library receives the first Green Office Gold Certification

Carol Ellis accepts the certificate for Tisch Library

This spring, the Office of Sustainability finally  launched a new program to recognize, support and promote offices that are engaging in sustainable practices.

The Green Office Certification program has four levels of certification allowing offices to be recognized for their current conservation actions, while still providing a goal to work towards (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). On Tuesday, May 8th, at the annual luncheon for Eco-Ambassadors, four offices were awarded a certificate that will be displayed in their office to reflect ongoing efforts in energy reduction, waste conservation and sustainable purchasing.

Congratulations to the Tisch Library for being the first office to achieve Gold level Green Office Certification, and to the Department of Environmental and Population Health, Ginn Library at the Fletcher School and Tufts Renewable Energy & Applied Photonics (REAP) Labs for achieving the Bronze level of office sustainability!

If your office or deparment would like to participate and begin the process of Green Office Certification, just follow this link! Any office or department on all three campuses can participate. Every year, your office can resubmit the survey to evaluate improvements made in the workplace and help Tufts University become a more sustainable campus!

Good luck! We cannot wait to award more Green Office certificates.

Eco-Ambassador Laurie Sabol: a green champion within and beyond Tufts

Laurie accepting the Bridge Builder Award from President Emeritus Larry Bacow

Last June at the 2011 Tufts Distinction Awards, the Office of Sustainability was proud to note that former Eco-Ambassador Laurie Sabol (FY 2009-10) was recognized* with a Bridge Builder Award for “bringing out the best in others”. It is easy to see why: apart from being the Social Sciences reference librarian at Tisch Library, Laurie has long been a “green advocate” within and beyond the Tufts community.

During her stint as an Eco-Ambassador, she wrote a proposal to start the Tisch Sustainability Team which has since received support and recognition from library administration. The Team has started several initiatives such as office composting and becoming a TerraCycle recycling site for chip/granola bar bags and writing implements. (Proceeds from TerraCycle benefit the Eco-Reps program.)

On being an Eco-Ambassador, Laurie says she really enjoyed networking with people she otherwise would not have met. She found the session on “Social Marketing and Communicating Change” most helpful because she found that the biggest challenge is convincing people to actively participate in sustainable initiatives.

In 2000, Laurie answered a call for board members at the statewide recycling coalition Mass Recycle and became involved with the organization for six years. She served as the board’s secretary, doing a lot of “grunt work” but also looked for speakers and spoke at a conference herself two years ago about the Tisch Sustainability Team. Of her time at Mass Recycle, she humbly remarks that “I learned how much I didn’t know.”

Before joining Tufts, Laurie worked at Chicago Public Library and Bowling Green State University (Ohio) where she had also started recycling initiatives. “At Chicago Public Library, we just had a laundry cart that we filled with newspapers and I found a local recycling organization who would take them.” There was no formal organization or recognition, as was the case in Bowling Green where the library staff began recycling cans and hauling the lot themselves to a recycling facility nearby. “It was fun and very low maintenance,” Laurie recalls. “We’d bring the cans over every Friday and go out for a beer.”

Not surprisingly, Laurie remains an active member of MassRecycle and the recycling program at her current hometown of Ayer, MA. She’s got plenty of other things going on, so drop by the library sometime and ask her about being a weekend puppy mom for NEADS and what she was doing in Xi’an, China in 1992…

*Another Eco-Ambassador, Chantal Hardy (FY 2010-11) of the English Department was also recognized for exceptional customer service with The Extra Mile Award.

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