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Tag: Waste (page 1 of 2)

Environmental Waste Coordinator, University of Florida

Application deadline: Feb. 5, 2014

This position is responsible for resource recovery and is integrally involved in accomplishing Zero Waste for the University. Works closely with the PPD Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator and Solid Waste Vendor and the Department of Sustainability to conduct studies in order to identify waste streams that can be diverted into recyclable resources. Researches trends and develops innovative and advanced techniques in zero waste and resource recovery. Implements and monitors the operational processes for the reduction of waste.

Serves as the project manager or lead in projects designed to divert waste from the landfill, which might include programs such as composting, gasification, Bio digestion and others. It serves as the University’s technical expert for these matters, providing strategic direction and program suggestions for sustainable waste management. It is responsible for the progressive development and oversight of these sustainable programs.

Learn more/apply.

Zero Waste Challenge, The Penultimate Day

We’ve reached the last full day of the Zero Waste Challenge. How’s everyone feeling?? Is your bag still empty, or have you had to snag a second Ziploc to handle all your coffee cups?

So I have a bit of a confession to make. I haven’t been totally honest about following the Challenge. I chose not to put in the moldy Gouda that I tossed this weekend – you can’t put dairy in the compost, unfortunately. I also told myself that if I knew that it could be composted if a compost were available, it didn’t count – like the apple I threw into the trash at my internship in Boston or the paper towels I tossed aside in Eaton. I also composted one of those food containers from Hodgdon even though I wasn’t totally sure whether it was compostable… It looked like it! And it was only the second day of the challenge, and I would have had that smelly thing in my bag all week…

I promise I really have been trying, though. I ate a pear between classes one day and carried it around in a bundle of paper towels for hours until I could get back to my dorm and put it in the compost.

Something we’ve discussed around the office was that “Zero Waste Challenge” is kind of a misnomer. We’re not actually asking you to go waste-free for the week: we hope that you’ll be more observant of your own habits and aware of how carrying around your waste – taking the “away” out of throwing trash away – changes how you feel about it. When your waste sticks around, you start thinking about how you can reduce it, right? How could we produce similar results on a large scale? Establish a cap-and-trade system for waste? Set a per capita limit for waste and charge heavy fees beyond that? Require individual landfills in every apartment or backyard so that we all share equally in waste disposal? That would never happen, but you get the idea.

Many of the realizations I’ve had so far have been about our system of consumption and disposal and how it can trap us in or free us from vicious cycles. Like that time I carried a pear around for hours: wouldn’t it have been nice if there were compost bins available on campus besides just in dorms and the dining hall? Same thing with those paper towels in Eaton. Tufts uses mostly unbleached napkins and paper towels, and they can be composted, which is awesome, except that we generally use paper towels in bathrooms where no compost bin is available. Sure, we could carry our used towels around with us – but I think we’d be more likely to see more positive change in individual habits if we were enabled by the system, e.g. if compost bins were available in academic buildings and bathrooms around campus. What’s more, in many dorm bathrooms there aren’t even paper towels but those little tissues that get all peely if you try to dry your hands with them. Why can’t we install some hand dryers, simultaneously saving trees and the hands of poor students in cold and windy winters?

But I realize I haven’t even given you the breakdown of what’s in my bag. Let’s take a look:

  • Gum. So. Much. Gum. I knew this was going to be a problem going into the Challenge – I tend to go through about 4 pieces of gum a day. Most gum wrappers are definitely not compostable, and the internet is divided over whether gum is. I have no idea what my gum is made of – trust me, I tried to read the ingredients and left more mystified than before – so I don’t know how much of it is natural and biodegradable. (Then I start thinking, if it’s not safe to put back into the earth, why am I putting it in me? But it’s an addiction.)
  • Plastic bags - Many plastic bags can be reused or recycled in grocery stores, but then there are those super-thin crinkly ones that you bag your vegetables in at Stop and Shop or Whole Foods or what have you. I try to reuse them but they’re such a low-grade plastic that even washing it feels useless. I HAD a big bag from pretzels in there, but I learned I could Terracycle it! Who knew??
  • Lint. I wish I could have avoided this by hanging my laundry outside – it would have smelled like sunshine! – but such is college. The jury also seems to be out on lint. Tufts Recycles! actually wrote about this issue last year – they would not support composting lint. From the little reading I did online, I think I have to agree with them. If you know for certain that your clothes do not contain synthetic materials, that’s one thing – but most of us, if not all, can’t say that for sure. And any chemicals that end up in your compost will end up in the earth and back in your food or somebody else’s.
  • The plastic wrapper that held my two boxes of soap together.
  • Two hand wipes – I try to avoid these in general (these are the first ones I’ve used in at least a year) because water does the job just fine. Plus, with all the chemicals on them, they’re definitely not going in the compost – so they end up in the trash.

Let’s look at my progression over the week:

photo[1]image[1]image_1[1]image_2[1]

 

For me, the big idea that comes out of this challenge – and something that has already been a huge part of my life, affecting the decisions I make about what I eat, wear, etc. – is that as individuals and as a culture we aren’t cognizant of nor willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our consumption. And not even just environmental either: Earlier this week we posted a Ted Talk by Van Jones, covering the complexities of the intersections of environmentalism and social justice. When we throw away our trash – or even when we recycle – it leaves our little corner of reality but it goes and pollutes someone else’s backyard or fills someone else’s lungs with fumes.  How about that nice blouse you bought from H&M? Do you know where it was made? Do you know how the people who made it live, or how much they earned? If you wear it three or four times and then throw it out because you get tired of it or it gets too ratty, is that doing any justice to the handiwork and materials that went towards its production and distribution? Or the chocolate in the cookies you just ate – was it produced through slave labor in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)?

I know this is overwhelming, but we as individuals need to acknowledge that our standard of living has consequences, usually not for us directly but for those without political voice or influence, for future generations, etc. I definitely have a problem with the environmental and social repercussions of my lifestyle, and I try to minimize them as much as possible. I hope our Zero Waste Challenge can move you towards doing the same – and together, I hope we can work for systemic change, because whatever we do as individuals, it will have so much more impact if we do it together.

~~Stina Stannik

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.

Tips for Zero-Waste Week

It’s easy to do the Zero Waste Challenge when you are at a place like Tufts, where recycling bins abound and compost drops are available on campus. Still, here are some good tips to keep in mind:

  • Snack on fresh fruit – it’s healthier AND it’s compostable.
  • Carry a small tupperware to put food to compost later.
  • Bring your lunch and use the container to get takeout for dinner.
  • Get your drinks without a straw.
  • Avoid individually wrapped tea or drink loose leaf tea.
  • Always bring a reusable mug or water bottle.

    Photo courtesy of Tufts Dining

    • Save 20 cents at Mugar Cafe, Tower Cafe, Brown & Brew, Hodgdon Good-to-Go & Commons Deli if you bring your own mug.
    • The Tufts “Choose to Reuse” clear water bottle will get you a discount on any fountain beverage at Mugar Cafe, Hodgdon Good-to-Go, Commons Deli, and Tower Cafe. Water and sparkling water will also be discounted at Hotung Cafe.

A few things to remember:

  • Aluminum foil and yogurt cups are recyclable.
  • All napkins are compostable.
  • Any rigid plastic can be recycled – including coffee stirrers. (It doesn’t have to fit through the openings of the recycling bin, by the way – just lift the cover.)
  • Energy bar wrappers and chip bags are recyclable. Tufts has Terracycle brigades on campus.

For more information on recycling and composting at Tufts, visit the TuftsRecycles! website.

Good luck and have fun!

Campus Sustainability Council update: Waste Working Group

Since the beginning of March, the three Working Groups of the Campus Sustainability Council have been meeting to discuss the current state of energy/emissions, water, and waste policies and practices at Tufts, and to create new policy measures in these areas.

The Waste Working Group met for the first time on March 12th and reviewed its roles and responsibilities, which include collaborating to create university-wide solid waste reduction/avoidance goals, presenting goals to the main Council for feedback and approval, and creating strategies to meet the goals, including implementation planning.

The group reviewed how Tufts manages its waste as well as consumption data. They learned that causes of waste output variations are usually hard to determine but that waste increases noticeably during a strong economy and times of high consumption, and that reduced consumption and reusing materials could impact waste output considerably. The group reviewed the waste breakdown for the past several years on the Boston and Medford campuses. Finally, the group looked into strategies for waste reduction. The waste management hierarchy follows, from most preferred to least preferred:

  • Source reduction and reuse
  • Recycling/composting
  • Energy recovery
  • Treatment and disposal

In the second meeting, the Waste Working Group decided to break down into smaller sub-groups, and the third meeting was spent working within those groups. The groups, along with their objectives, are:

  • Waste Management
    • To identify gaps and weaknesses in current waste management and address gaps, and to achieve uniformity in waste management practices wherever possible
    • Group will cover practices and metrics
  • Source Reduction
    • Group will impact waste reduction and responsible choices through purchasing contracts and client interface
  • Labs and Hospitals
    • Group will focus on laboratory and hospital waste management including animal facilities
  • Marketing and Education
    • Group will raise the level of awareness for waste reduction across all Tufts communities through behavior change

The working group members are now in the process of brainstorming goals and areas of policy change within their subgroups. Once this process is complete, the sub-groups will discuss their findings and the Waste Working Group will make a report to the Sustainability Council. The working group is co-chaired by Gretchen Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Medicine in the Department of Environmental and Population Health and Director of the Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and Dawn Quirk, Waste Reduction Program Manager in Tufts Facilities Services.

As always, Tufts community members are welcome to add their own suggestions for the working group through the easy, on-line form available on the Office of Sustainability’s website.

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