Written with guest writer, Alex Pearcy, a junior geology and biology major from Indianapolis, IN.
Due to COVID-19 creating the need for classes to go online and students to leave campus, Earth Day 50 might not be what it was expected to be. However, some efforts toward creating a more environmentally friendly campus are still being worked on even in these unknown times. While the Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE) is one of the college’s leaders in promoting and creating plans for sustainable efforts, there are many other groups that are helping as well.
Waste and Recycling
John Hibbs, director of grounds, and Doug Laditka, associate vice president of facilities management and development, are key players when it comes to environmental impact on campus. While it is good to have staff working on environmental efforts on campus, it is important to have support higher up in office, as well as fellow students and faculty, to help promote efforts.
Recycling is always something that is talked about and something that can be easily implemented on college campuses. As many students have seen, this past semester, there have been more refuse and recycling containers placed outside of educational buildings. Even with this effort to keep the campus clean, the containers themselves still have flaws.
“There are no true defined parameters of functionality,” said Hibbs. “I can attribute this mainly to the lack of specific labeling, which unfortunately is hampered by regulations by our contracted refuse service. I am currently working with them in this regard.”
Another thing students, faculty and staff observe when it comes to the recycling bins on campus is that most of the time, products that are not of recycling material are tossed into the bins.
“Containers are mostly situated close together, causing confusion as to which items go where,” said Hibbs. “I believe, to a certain extent, laziness contributes as well. With containers in such close proximity, some people choose not to pay attention to which container they are throwing items into.”
Ultimately, Hibbs would like to provide pictures on each bin showing what materials can be placed in it. He also noted that the places on campus where he sees wrong items in bins most frequently, are located behind Baldwin, Campus Safety, Twin Towers and the fraternities.
The lack of effort students, faculty and staff put toward placing products in the correct bins loses the campus money in the long run. Hibb explains that a member of the hourly grounds staff has to pick out the non-recyclable materials when they should be performing another task. There would also be an upcharge for collecting a recycling container as trash. So, as director of grounds, Hibbs is currently wording to fix something that could have been avoided in the first case.
Completed over winter break, another sustainability project that campus had in the works was replacing over 4,000 light bulbs with LEDs in Kresge, the Science Complex, Ferguson and the Equestrian Center. The greatest aspect about this project is the effort that the facilities team put into it.
Along with getting a discount from the local distributor and taking advantage of a large rebate from Consumer Energy, the project only cost $9,000 total. This saves the college around $21,000 annually. In less than 6 months, the project will pay for itself in energy reduction.
Facilities has made other efforts to put more water conservative heads on showers and faucets in dorms and apartments. The replaced aerators and shower heads are said to reduce the water usage by almost 50%. Facilities staff made their first round of changes during winter break, giving students living in Burns, Munger and the Mae a nice surprise when they returned to campus.
Pat Miller, general manager of food services, and Brian Gilbert, director of operations for food services, receive daily questions about the Bon Appetite Services at Albion College. Bon Appetite is advertised as a food dining option that comes from locally sourced ingredients, which can come with some advantages and disadvantages.
“[Benefits] include fresher products with less carbon footprint, as well as supporting the local economy,” said Miller. “While I do not consider this a disadvantage of purchasing locally sourced food, the growing season for fresh fruits and vegetables determines the availability of purchasing produce from local farmers.”
Some future local ingredients that will be headed Bon Appetit’s way will be from the Student Farm on Albion’s campus. Within the past year, large efforts have been made by Jason Radattazz, director of the White House Nature Center, and The Student Farm Club to make this alliance happen. The student farm grows spinach, peppers, tomatoes and herbs. There is also hope from the students of the Farm Club that these two programs will be able to work together to create a composting site at the farm in the future. In previous efforts to help reduce single use plastic, the addition of 60 water bottle filling stations were added around campus thanks to a donation from alumni Bruce and Jane Harper last spring.
One issue that is often mentioned to Miller and Gilbert is the amount of single use plastic that is used to hold some of the food items that are prepared by staff.
“Plastic is used to package most of the to-go items. Paper alternatives are not conducive, as they absorb moisture,” said Miller. “We are continually looking for ways to minimize the use of plastics, and are committed to using earth-friendly packaging for our product whenever possible.”
The Environmental Club was able to hand out 250 bamboo cutlery sets to students and staff so they could use them at places like the Eat Shop in the KC and Between the Grinds in the library, thus cutting back on the amount of waste generated by plastic cutlery used on the go.
Miller also noted that students are more than welcome to participate in the reuse-to-go option. Students can get a reusable to-go container from the Dining Services office on the second floor of Baldwin and use those at the food option locations.
She also mentioned that disposables made from recycled materials and compostable options are used as much as possible in these locations.The rice bowl containers from the Eat Shop are made from sugar cane fiber made by ECO Products Inc. Fabri Kal Corporations Greenware plastic cups and Pactiv Corporations Earth Choice products are used for portioning cold food items. These are both companies that PLA in their products which are natural, plant-based plastics made from starches.
This, however, creates a new question: How compostable is compostable plastic? If compostable plastics are not sent to a composting plant, they do not degrade as quickly as they are said to. In order for materials to break down there are specific conditions that they need, which usually include very high temperatures and with specific levels of oxygen. This means that if they are put in containers to go to the landfill, they will not have proper conditions to compost.
The Big Influencers
The big question with Albion College and it’s environmental thought is how far is the Board of Trustees willing to go in order to help the campus step up into becoming sustainable. Back in 2015, Albion College ranked 130 on Sierra Club’s Cool School Rankings. The next year, the college dropped to 181. In 2017, Albion was no longer on the list.
Although small efforts are being made thanks to facilities, grounds and dining staff at Albion, it is also important that support and action come from those higher up in administration. If Albion College wants to be recognized once again for being a top environmentally friendly campus, then the administration needs to put more effort into sustainability.
In January, the Board of Trustees did approve an additional $650,000 in energy conservation work, which will go toward additional lighting upgrades and water conservation. But is that enough?
At a Student Senate meeting last October, President Ditzler was questioned about the sustainable efforts at Albion College and the funding that goes toward them. Ditzler suggested that in order for the campus to become sustainable, it would need to find donors that are excited about environmental issues.
Donors often have a large say in what their money goes toward, but that doesn’t mean they always have a variety of options to pick from. Albion College needs to put forth more projects and environmental options for donors to support if the dynamic of the school is going to change.
The environment should be a higher priority at Albion. The more sustainable efforts made by the campus means Albion has a higher chance of gaining recognition, like obtaining a leading spot on the Sierra Club’s list of colleges. The more attention that the college gets would ultimately lead more students to look into earth science degrees and environmental courses at Albion. As most of us know, higher enrollment means a larger amount of money for the college, which benefits both the college and students.
So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t need to be just the donors’ support that puts forth environmental sustainability efforts, but also the Board of Trustees. Sustainability efforts need to be supported by the President and Provost. They need to be supported by faculty and staff. And they need to be supported by students.
Sustainability efforts need to be supported by you. So, in light of Earth Day 50, make an effort to be more environmentally friendly.