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ESF Operational Staff Key to Making a Sustainable Difference 3/26/2020


By Karen B. Moore

A little extra effort makes a big difference. That's the message from a trio of ESF employees working on the College's materials management efforts.

ESF rolled out a campus-wide composting program at the start of the fall 2019 semester. This included placing compost bins on every floor in all buildings, next to the Trailhead Cafe in Gateway Center and outside of Moon Library, the Gateway Center, Marshall Hall and Baker Laboratory. The bins in most places are next to recycling and trash bins.

Since the program was introduced, the College has increased its recycling 106 percent (by weight) and reduced trash 107 percent (by weight), according to Susan Fassler, sustainable facilities manager.

Tossing compostables in the proper receptacle is only the beginning. In Marshall Hall, Mark Poupore, janitor, and Emily Cook, facilities operations assistant, go through those discarded items to make sure everything is separated properly.

"These two (Poupore and Cook) do better than most buildings on campus," said Gerald Pinkley, supervisor of grounds.

"One thing we do differently is we spend a little more time with bathroom trash," said Poupore, to separate trash from compostables. "Any of the brown paper towels can go in the compost. So if you take all your bathroom trash and dump it in the compost it makes a world of difference."

When the composting program was announced, people were concerned there would be an odor associated with the bins, but the proper disposal of brown paper towels helps to eliminate that problem.

"People tend to go for convenience," said Pinkley, "whatever bin is first is the one they'll use." However, since compost bins were placed outside, next to trash and recycling bins, near some buildings he has seen improvement.

And Pinkley would know. The grounds crew is responsible for the daily pick up of the College's trash, recycling and compostables. After the initial sort by individuals, there's more that needs to be done.

"We get fined if we get over a certain amount of the wrong types of plastic in our recycling dumpster so we have to make sure there's not too much plastic that's not supposed to be in there," said Pinkley. Any packaging they pick up from the loading docks gets sorted by the grounds crew - cardboard goes into recycling while packing foam and plastics go in the trash.

Before the roll-out of campus-wide composting, Syracuse Haulers picked up trash and recycling dumpsters five days a week from campus. Now, Syracuse Haulers picks up trash three days a week and recycling five days a week.

ESF also recycles all the disposed batteries on campus. It's not as simple as tossing them in a container and sending them off. "We sort and have to tape all the ends of the batteries before shipping them to battery recycling," said Pinkley.

Composting has a different set of parameters from trash and recycling. The College has a contract with Syracuse Haulers to pick up its compost from designated spots on campus five times a week.

Poupore said the monthly materials audits conducted by students helps staff monitor how successful the composting effort is. "It's pretty interesting what you'll find," he said. "A lot of it is just hand towels and plastic bags, or you'll find a plastic bag with two hand towels and it's just thrown out."

As people become accustomed to the new system, Poupore said they're seeing increased participation. "I think it's better than when we started," he said. "A lot of it is truly just paying attention to what you're doing and getting out of the old routine of just throwing stuff out. One of the biggest things for everyone on campus to realize is that almost anything from Trailhead can go in the compost."

Except for triangle clamshell sandwich containers, sandwich wrap paper, fry containers and utensils, everything else used at the campuses two dining spots is compostable. "And if there's food in them that's fine because food can go into the compost," said Poupore.

The new program is working. "The numbers don't lie," said Pinkley. "Recycling numbers are up. Trash numbers are down. We're getting more and more compost every day. We just need everybody to work. Change isn't a bad thing."

Putting in the extra time to ensure the materials management program is a success is both professional and personal for Poupore, Cook and Pinkley.

"I know money gets put towards this and what a difference it can make … I feel like I'm helping out a little bit, but it would make it easier if everyone paid attention," said Cook who has posted pictures of what goes in each bin to help students, faculty and staff get accustomed to sorting.

Said Poupore, "I tend to go the extra mile with a lot of things just because that's who I am, but with this … there's grant money if you can show and be one of the top schools in the nation (involved in materials management) there's money that can come back to the college, so, I'd like to see that happen and be used for other things."