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Eco-Ambassador Visit to Casella Waste Management Materials Recovery Facility

On Thursday, August 2nd, 12 Eco-Ambassadors, two Office of Sustainability staff members and one intern  visited the Casella Waste Systems Inc. Material Recovery Facility located in Charlestown, MA.

The visit was facilitated by Gretchen Carey, the Recycling & Organics Coordinator from Republic Services, Tufts’ waste hauler. Once we arrived at the facility, Mark Evans of Casella’s Commercial and Municipal Business Development Department explained the recycling process, what kinds of materials are processed at the facility, and the dos and don’ts of recycling.

A typical recycling lecture may simply end there. However, given China’s new policies about what recycled materials they will accept from the U.S. that has had a significant impact on the U.S. recycling industry, Mark spent a majority of the time explaining the current state of global recycling systems and what it means for the U.S.

How China influences the U.S. recycling industry

Mark explained that 800 – 1000 tons of materials are processed at their facility each day. The facility does not have the capacity to store a large amount of materials at a time. After materials are sorted and baled, they get shipped to places that will take the recycled materials and use them to manufacture new products.

In recent years, around 90% of all recycled materials sorted by Casella were exported to China.  This is different than when Mark first started working in the business, when only around 20% of the material was exported. Back then, a majority of the materials would go to domestic processing plants which have since been shut down due to China’s domination of the market.

The current problem

In the last few months,  China stopped accepting recycled materials from the U.S. due to the level of contamination of U.S. recycled materials. This is in large part due to their desire to increase implementation of environmental policies.

In the U.S., recycling has moved to be collected in a single stream in most locations, meaning that all recyclable items can be disposed of in a single container. The contents are then separated and processed in a plant like the one we visited. Contamination is an inherent problem with mixed recycling.

In recent years, due to the switch to automated waste collection, there is no one to physically monitor the items being hauled into the recycling trucks and delivered to the recycling plants. According to Mark, on average, the material that comes through Casella’s plant has a contamination level of around 10-20%.

One of the largest hits to Casella is associated with mixed paper – basically anything that is not cardboard or newspaper. Casella used to be able to sell mixed paper to Chinese companies for around $80-90 a ton. Now, they have to pay to get rid of it. As a result, Casella had to increase what they charge their customers for processing their recycling.

These changes were implemented so quickly that the U.S. industry has not had time to adapt. Gretchen mentioned that there was very little warning regarding China’s new policies. Last summer, they were notified that the level of contamination had to go down to 0.5%. By December, China started to implement this policy.

You can’t recycle electronics through regular recycling!

What needs to change

“They are just doing what should have been done years ago,” Mark commented, referring to China’s new, stricter regulations. However, now that China has made the switch, the U.S. also has to find ways to reduce contamination of recycled materials and increase outlets to recycle the material domestically.

Because of the single-stream and automated systems, it is imperative that individuals know what can and can’t be recycled and act accordingly. Gretchen and Mark both mentioned the phenomenon of “wish-cycling” or “aspiration recycling.” This is when someone thinks, “this seems recyclable, so maybe if I put it in the recycling bin it will get recycled.” If there is any doubt, it is better to simply put the items in the trash rather than to contaminate the recycling and increase labor for the workers in the recycling plants.

Materials like plastic film, cords, and other items that tangle easily in particular increase labor for workers at the plant, as they get wrapped around equipment used for sorting and compacting. The equipment is rendered useless until cleared.

Systemic changes also need to occur within the U.S. recycling industry to create more outlets for recycling. One solution is for individual companies to become outlets for specific materials.

If you are often on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus, you have probably run into a Terracycle recycling bin. Tufts is part of Terracycle’s “Energy Bar Brigade.” Through this program, foil-lined energy bars collected get sent to Terracycle to be recycled and turned into new products. Because the materials collected are so specific and uniform, there is no contamination and it is easy to turn the materials into new products.

Similarly, recently, Tufts has recently started to look into putting out separate collection bins for plastic bags and film, which cannot go in the regular recycling stream. Once collected, these can be sent to Trex, an outdoor decking company. Trex is able to use the plastic film to create new eco-friendly products.

These kinds of new outlets for recyclable materials, if utilized, can help reduce contamination rates of single stream recycling.

Hope on the horizon

Despite the bleakness of the past few months in the U.S. recycling industry, Mark noted that he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Recently, Nine Dragons, a Chinese paper milling company, announced that it will acquire two U.S.-based paper milling plants. This could open up domestic outlets for U.S. waste facilities to send recycling.

While this will definitely help the current disastrous situation for the U.S. recycling industry, one or two new domestic mills will not be enough to meet the demand for recycling outlets. Industries, companies, and vendors will increasingly be pushed to create products with recycled materials, or to take back materials that cannot be put in the regular waste streams.

All in all, the trip was an incredibly informative and enlightening experience that is sure to make all of the already environmentally-conscious Eco-Ambassadors even more attentive of what they place in their recycling bins.

Tips for a Sustainable Move-In

With August fast approaching, it is getting to be that time of year when students start thinking about moving in to their Tufts residence for the upcoming school year!

Whether you are a returning student or a incoming first-year student, the Office of Sustainability has a few tips to make your move-in a greener one! Read on for details, and some PSAs from our Recycling Fellow.

Only Bring What You Need

This one is self-explanatory, but it’s an important one! The less you bring, the less packaging you’ll waste. In addition, it may be one less box to ship if you’re moving in from far away.

At the end of the year, so many items are left behind during move-out, which may signify that students are bringing/purchasing too many unnecessary items.

Wait On Big Purchases

Definitely wait to check-in with your room/house-mates about bringing large items to campus. If you wait to discuss logistics, you may be able to split the costs for many purchases and save a lot of money.

Additionally, you may be able to find more affordable options for some dorm room items once you get to campus (see below).

Buy Used

Don’t miss out on the second annual Blue and Brown Pass It Down Sale hosted by Tufts Green House! Many items collected during the Spring Move-Out will be available to purchase at the lowest prices around. This is a great place to get lamps, rugs, hangers, and other items you might need for your dorm room.

Additionally, Tufts Buy/Sell/Trade is a private Facebook Group for those with tufts.edu email addresses to exchange items, where many useful items are often posted.

Ditch Cardboard Boxes

Why use a cardboard box when you could use items you need to bring with you anyways, such as backpacks, duffel bags, suitcases, laundry bins and other containers. Not only will you reduce waste, you’ll also save space!

If you need to use cardboard boxes (if you are shipping items, for example), consider breaking them down and storing them under your bed until move-out. View the Recycling Fellow PSA below about cardboard box recycling for more reasons to ditch the boxes.

Replace Your Lightbulbs

Bring any incandescent lightbulbs to the Office of Sustainability at 550 Boston Ave and we will replace them with LED light bulbs, free of charge.

This is a part of an effort to reduce energy emissions from Tufts campuses. LED lights last much longer than incandescent lightbulbs, but are often much pricier. Definitely take advantage of this sweet deal!

Recycling Fellow PSAs:

Please bring any recyclables associated with your move-in to a recycling dumpster. There will be signs indicating the locations of the nearest dumpster to each dorm. You can also view our online Eco-Map for outdoor recycling locations.

If you have any questions about what can or can’t be recycled, please ask one of the Eco-Reps who will be walking around the dorms.

Please do not discard cardboard boxes in any location in the dorms. You must bring broken down cardboard boxes to the nearest recycling dumpster (locations will be indicated on signs posted in each dorm). If you don’t bring or discard cardboard boxes you won’t have to make this trek, as an added incentive to follow our tips above!

Plastic bags and film cannot be recycled through the regular recycling stream. Please do not place these in the recycling dumpsters. Look out for signage regarding designated bins for plastic film recycling.

 

4 Ways To Eliminate Plastic From Your Life

 

According to a National Geographic article, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been created since manufacturing of the material began six decades ago. The article also estimates that 91% of all plastic consumed around the world is not recycled.

As you may have seen on social media,  many people have attempted to avoid using plastic products completely for the month of July, as a part of Plastic-Free July. Although July is coming to an end, that does not mean that we should abandon the effort to reduce our plastic consumption.

Here are just a few small changes you can make to reduce your consumption of plastic on a daily basis:

Ditch Bottled Beverages and Disposable Cups:

According to a 2017 article, “a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.”  That comes down to around 20,000 plastic bottles every second! Not only is using a reusable mug or water bottle a great way to reduce plastic consumption, it may also save you some money. Many coffee shops and other stores offer discounts to those who bring their own bottles and mugs.

Bring Your Own Bag

As with reusable mugs and bottles, bringing your own reusable bag to grocery stores often gets you a discount. To take a step further, you can also purchase reusable mesh bags for produce instead of using the plastic bags available in the produce section of grocery stores.

Buy In Bulk

Buying in bulk is not always feasible if you do not have many mouths to feed in your home. As an alternative, many grocery stores have bulk sections where you can purchase items like grains, nuts, spices and dried fruits from bulk bins in the exact quantities that you need. Bringing your own container and measuring out the exact amount of an item you need is a great way to eliminate both packaging waste and food waste – because are you really going to use up that large container of cardamom you bought to make curry that one time?

Use Reusable Utensils

Whenever possible, try bringing your own utensils and plates to events and meetings where food may be served. For packed lunches, you could invest in a reusable sandwich or snack bag to replace single-use plastic bags. You could even try out beeswax wrap, an alternative to plastic wrap!

2018 Green Office Certification And Eco-Ambassador Ceremony And Reception

Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University

On Thursday, July 12th, the Office of Sustainability held a ceremony and reception for new Eco-Ambassadors and Green Offices. Sustainability-minded employees from all four of Tufts’ campuses convened to be recognized by Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco in the Coolidge Room of Ballou Hall.

Throughout the historic room, attendees could view posters with information about the Green Office and Eco-Ambassador programs as well as information about Tufts’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Offices were also able pledge to reach a higher level of Green Office certification in the future and write down any ideas they had about ways Tufts could be more sustainable. Some submitted ideas included reducing the use of plastic water bottles and the frequency of leaf blowing around campus.

Attendees mingled, exchanged ideas about sustainability, and enjoyed a delicious spread courtesy of Tufts Catering.

Shoshana Blank making her opening remarks (Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University)

Shoshana Blank, the Office of Sustainability’s Education and Outreach Program Administrator,  then gave the opening remarks. Outlining the history and descriptions of the Green Office and Eco-Ambassador programs, she emphasized the important role the employees being recognized at this ceremony play in furthering sustainability efforts and creating a culture of sustainability at Tufts.

President Monaco recognizing sustainable initiatives at Tufts (Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University)

She then introduced President Monaco, who began by highlighting in detail many of the operational and institutional changes being made to make Tufts’ campuses more sustainable, such as the newly LEED Gold certified SEC and the Central Energy Plant that will help reduce Tufts’ emissions.

President Monaco went on to emphasize that the grassroots efforts on the part of the Eco-Ambassadors and Green Offices are equally important in developing a culture of sustainability and engaging sustainable behaviors in students and other employees. The synthesis of efforts from both the administration and grassroots levels helps further sustainability goals at the university.

 

President Monaco awarding a Green Office certificate to the Fletcher Office of Admissions Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University

President Monaco presented all of the offices that were certified or re-certified as Green Offices this year with their respective certificates depending on the level they attained. This year’s new Eco-Ambassadors were also called up to be recognized and for a group photo.

New Eco-Ambassadors group picture! (Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University)

As a part of the ceremony, two Eco-Ambassadors were called up to share their stories about how they have helped make their offices more sustainable. Misha D’Andrea, from the SMFA’s Office of Admissions, explained how she learned about sustainability efforts at Tufts during her new employee orientation. Excited, she immediately started working with her fellow staff member Brianna Florio to get their office Green Office Certified – a first for the SMFA campus. Misha and Brianna also became the SMFA’s first Eco-Ambassadors.

Misha D’Andrea speaking about sustainability efforts at the SMFA (Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University)

Together, they helped make their office more sustainable by promoting compost, green commuting, using recycled paper, and other small sustainable changes staff members could easily make. In addition, they helped make Jumbo Day, the SMFA’s accepted students day, a zero-waste event by purchasing compostable plates, cups and utensils through an Eco-Ambassador grant. They also joined the SMFA Sustainability Task Force, spearheaded by a SMFA faculty member, that is made up of faculty, staff and students who want to make the campus more sustainable.

Freedom Baird from the Medford/Somerville campus Educational Technology Services recalled feeling pleasantly surprised that sustainability was a part of her new employee orientation. For her, this represented the university’s recognition of sustainability as an important issue and part of the campus culture. Excited, she immediately reached out to Shoshana and joined in on the Eco-Ambassador training.

Photo: Nicholas Pfosi for Tufts University

Thinking of ways she could help her office become more sustainable, Freedom noticed that her building purchased large 5 gallon bottles of water that had to be replaced frequently. She began putting together a survey to see if people in her building would be willing to switch to a water filtration system instead, which would greatly reduce plastic waste.

In crafting the survey, she used many of the tips from her Eco-Ambassador training. Freedom demonstrated to everyone at the ceremony how difficult it was to replace the large containers of water every time a new one was delivered through a dramatic performance. She noted that not having to do this anymore was a big sell for purchasing a water filtration system instead.

The event was a great way to celebrate individual employees and offices working to make Tufts a more sustainable place. Learn more about the Green Office Certification program and the Eco-Ambassadors program on our website.

Eco-Ambassadors Tour the SEC

Recently, the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), located on the Medford/Somerville campus at 200 College Avenue, received LEED Gold certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a voluntary green building rating system that recognizes high-performance, energy efficient and sustainable buildings.

On Wednesday afternoon, 11 Eco-Ambassadors went on a tour of the SEC to better understand what makes the building so energy efficient.

Elliott Miller and Michael Skeldon from Facilities Services along with Bruce Panilaitis, the Director of the Science and Engineering Complex, led the group through the architecturally stunning building to explain the inner workings of this state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind building.

Repurposing Tufts’ History

The exterior of an older building accents the new modern building’s interior

In the initial planning stages, the SEC was set to be built next to the location of the older Robinson and Anderson Halls, with potential plans to demolish Robinson Hall. However, they later decided to preserve both of the older buildings and convert them into wings of the new SEC. Not only is this more sustainable, it also helps preserve the history of the University. What is left is a stunning juxtaposition of old and new with the exposed brick visible within the modern interior of the atrium of the building.

The SEC houses several departments including Biology, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering, as well as the offices and labs of several other departments. The structure of the spaces provides ample opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Energy Efficiency

The SEC is designed for maximum energy efficiency. The building has tight doors and a white reflective roof to reduce the summer cooling load. While having an all-glass exterior may seem inefficient, the triple glazing on all SEC windows reduces heat loss in cooler months and helps keep the building cool in warmer months.

The volume of air that goes in and out of the building is tightly controlled. Conditioned air is recirculated from office and classroom areas and blended in with outside air for laboratory use. The building also uses low and medium temperature chilled water to provide year-round cooling. The chilled water has two systems and different supply temperatures (38°F and ~60°F) to optimize the efficiency of the CEP (Central Energy Plant) chillers and to provide efficient condensation free cooling without risking dripping from the chilled beam cooling.

Scheduling and occupancy sensors are built into each lab and office in the SEC and daylight dimming sensors automatically control the light levels in rooms to adjust for varying amounts of sunlight. There are also carbon dioxide air quality sensors in meeting rooms. When there are more people, more air is let into the room to maintain a consistent minimum air quality level and a comfortable temperature. If no one is detected in the room after a preset amount of time, the lighting is turned off and the heating or cooling set-points are significantly relaxed to minimize energy use until someone reoccupies the space.

Exposed piping on the ceiling of a lab in the SEC

Exposed piping on the ceiling of a lab in the SEC

A striking aspect of the building is the exposed ductwork and piping which actually has a very practical purpose — having all of the valves and airflow controls exposed allows technicians to easily see the control position indicators of the equipment and troubleshoot a malfunction, often without even having to get a ladder. This allows for quicker repairs which reduce the amount of time when energy can be wasted as the problem is being solved.

Sustainable Lab Design

A typical lab bench in the SEC, with components plugged into the ceiling which can be easily removed and replaced to suit the researchers' needs

A typical lab bench in the SEC

The SEC’s new LEED Gold certification is particularly notable because of how difficult it can be to achieve a sustainable design in a laboratory building. These types of buildings tend to be highly energy dependent and unsustainable due to necessary safety precautions and the complex needs of lab occupants. Air changes in lab spaces are particularly important as they make sure that the air stays clean of contaminants and at a moderated temperature.

One of the tour guides, elliott miller, points to the exposed piping in the ceiling to explain the air ventilation systems in a lab

Elliott explaining the air ventilation systems

 

The building’s lab spaces use a minimum amount of air changes to reduce the amount of heating or cooling necessary to maintain the laboratory environment. To help optimize the air change rates, an air quality system monitor made by Aircuity, a company headquartered in Newton MA, measures certain parameters like VOCs, dust, humidity, and CO2, and compares them to the outside air. The system samples the air every 15 minutes and if abnormalities are detected, the frequency of air changes (air from the laboratory gets sucked out and replaced by new air coming in from the outside) is increased until the contaminants in the air are back down to an acceptable level.

Normally,  a minimum of five air changes occur each hour during the day, and less at night when no one is in the building. Mike explained that this is much less than some other laboratories that are designed to constantly exhaust 10 to 12 air changes in an hour.

The labs also have high-efficiency low flow fume hoods that are able to sense how much air should be flowing based on whether the fume is open or shut and if there is a person present. When no one is present, less air is drawn through which helps to further conserve energy.

The labs also accommodate a wide range of research needs while respecting sustainability. “A key aspect of efficiency is adaptability,” Michael explained. In the SEC, each level has the same basic layout even though the building is used by many different departments.

In addition, the individual labs are designed to be easily modified. The furniture is not fixed so that it can be easily moved at any time and infrastructure aspects such as vacuums, chords, chemicals, and gas can be easily installed or removed from fixtures on the ceiling. This allows the needs of the researchers occupying the lab at any given time to be easily met without needing to significantly change the physical space.

Utilizing the SEC

The SEC is as functional and practical as it is energy-efficient and beautiful!

One of the biggest challenges of introducing a new, state-of-the-art building such as the SEC comes after the construction is completed. A building with many sustainable functions cannot live up to its full potential without the understanding and support of its occupants. For example, even though air is tightly controlled to ensure the highest possible energy efficiency, this is rendered useless if the occupants decide to leave the windows open in their office all day.

While there will be a slight learning curve to using the building, the SEC is sure to provide a comfortable and exciting learning and innovating space for students, faculty, and other researchers for years to come.

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