Thursday, November 10, 2011

Styrofoam: Why it is Harmful & Alternatives

Styrofoam is a major environmental problem. Used in product packages and the shipping industry, the world produces tons of it each year. The fact that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable adds to the ecological impact. Landfills are filling up at a record rate and Styrofoam is one reason. Styrofoam has the potential to affect the entire ecological system of this planet.

The Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986. Over 90,000 workers face exposure to the effects of styrene, the material in Styrofoam, each year in industries such as rubber and fiberglass manufacturing companies. Health effects from exposure to styrene are irritation of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract and gastrointestinal problems. Chronic exposure affects the nervous system, causing symptoms like depression, headache, fatigue and weakness, and minor effects on kidney function and blood.

Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. According to Washington University, Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose; it cannot be recycled, so the Styrofoam cups dumped in landfills are there to stay. With enough Styrofoam cups produced each day to circle the earth if lined up end to end, the potential for major ecological impact is great.

Styrene leaches into foods and drinks served in Styrofoam containers, and according to the Earth Resource Foundation, the manufacture of Styrofoam releases large amounts of ozone into the atmosphere, causing respiratory and environmental issues. In addition, with billions of Styrofoam cups used yearly in convenience stores, restaurants and lunchrooms ending up in landfills, some cities have banned the use of Styrofoam.

Styrofoam and Styrofoam products fill up 30 percent of our landfill space, and landfills are fast becoming full. A Recycling Revolution reports that packaging material makes up one-third of an average dump. The U.S. is the biggest trash producer in the world, filling America's landfills at an alarming rate. Five percent of the world's population generate 40 percent of the world's trash. On average, each one of us puts out about 5 pounds of trash a day. This adds up to about a ton of trash per person every year that eventually ends up in a landfill.

The solution to the Styrofoam problem is finding and using alternative materials. If reusable dishes are not an option in your office, recycled paper products are the next best alternative, according to Earth Resource Foundation. Paper recycling also saves trees and contributes to an overall savings when compared to Styrofoam. Paper products are biodegradable and non-toxic to the environment. Easily recycled, paper is good for shipping and product packaging.
When ordering from vendors for your upcoming events, ask them not to use Styrofoam when you place the order! Also, consider purchasing a set of reusable dishes for your office to use at events—you can always rent the dishwasher in the ALANA Center!

For more information, please visit:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grants Office Reduces Paper Consumption

Last year, Colgate reduced its campus-wide use of paper by nearly four million sheets of paper or by one-third of our total in 2009. This was accomplished through duplex printing, print release stations in our public print areas, and many individual efforts such as the Grants Office.

The Grants Office recently started a new practice to cut down on the use of paper. Typically, an average of 42 grants are processed each year. For each grant, a hard copy was distributed to the department, division, dean of faculty, and the project director/principal investigator; approximately 30 doubled-sided sheets of paper were used per document. Approximately 5,400 sheets of paper were used per year to process grant proposals. A small amount of additional paper was used for distribution of award letters.

Now, the Grants Office is distributing these proposals as pdfs saving nearly 11 reams of paper per year! Congratulations to the Grants Office for doing their part to advance sustainability at Colgate.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recycling 411 in Madison County

On Friday, October 21, a small group students joined members of Colgate’s Sustainability Office on a field trip to the Madison County landfill and recycling center. Our goal was to become more familiar with where our waste goes and learn tips on how to better recycle. We learned that Madison County residents recycle approximately 6,000 tons worth of material each year. Additionally, the Madison County facility has implemented some really innovative projects pertaining to sustainable development and renewable energy. We wanted to share with you what we learned from our trip.

The Basics

Madison County has a two stream recycling center. Thus, as the name implies, we must separate our recyclables into two streams: 1) Paper and paper-based products must go in one container (to keep it dry and clean) and 2) aluminum, metal, glass, and plastic products must go in another container.

Paper and Cardboard

The golden rule of cardboard recycling: if it sits in your cupboard, it’s the perfect recyclable material! For example, cereal and granola bar boxes and even greasy pizza boxes can all be recycled. If you store it in the fridge or freezer, keep it out! This is because these cardboard products contain a plastic-like material that prevents them from falling apart when they become moist. Unfortunately, this material also contaminates paper recycling. For example, soda/beer boxes and cardboard milk containers must be thrown in the trash.

PHOTO: Paper products collected for recycling.

PHOTO: Paper products bailed and ready for recycling.

Aluminum, Metal, Glass and Plastic

The Madison County facility is able to recycle all 1-7 plastic products. But, before you throw your plastic in the recycle bin, make sure is “squeezable.” Another golden rule: if you squeeze it and it cracks, it’s trash; if you squeeze it and it’s pliable, it’s recyclable!

A few other tips: make sure to keep all Styrofoam products out of your recycling bin, clean your containers before discarding them and spend the extra second to drain your bottles and take the tops off (otherwise, someone else has to do it for you- think about unscrewing the caps off of hundreds of bottles a day).

PHOTO: Glass/metal/plastic products collected for recycling.

PHOTO: Glass/metal/plastic products bailed and ready for recycling.

Other Recycling Products

Yes, you can recycle your plastic bags from the grocery store. That is, if you aren’t already using a reusable one or reusing them yourself. Fill up one bag with others and put them in with your paper recycling bin. Also, you can recycle old clothing (shirts and shorts – yes; socks and underwear – no!). These products donated or used to make rags and other products. Once again, keep these in a dry bag and place them in your paper recycling bin. Lastly, if you have any old pots and pans, feel free to put them to good use! Throw them in a separate bag or put them in with the paper.

Recycling Solid Waste for Energy

The Madison County facility is at the forefront of utilizing renewable energy technologies. The facility has topped the landfill with thin and flexible solar panels.

PHOTO: Flexible solar PV array on capped landfill cell.

This solar PV array is estimated to generate 40,000 kWh’s of power per year; that’s enough to provide electricity to approximately 30,000 homes. In addition to this new project, the landfill is capturing the methane that is produced from the breakdown of solid waste. The methane is piped and combusted to provide 1,000 kilowatts of electricity per hour; that is enough to heat 200 homes per year. Moreover, the by-product is heat that is used to heat all of the facilities buildings!

If any of your basic recycling questions have not been answered, be on the look out for the first-ever Colgate Recyclepedia! Also, be sure to keep others informed! Education and awareness are the first steps towards a more sustainable future.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Colgate targets 2019 bicentennial for carbon neutrality

Colgate has set an ambitious target date to become carbon neutral by 2019, the university's 200th anniversary. In so doing, President Jeffrey Herbst again confirmed the high priority of sustainability practices on campus.

That aggressive target date will be attained through the implementation of 27 proposed on-campus mitigation projects, each outlined in Colgate's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, submitted to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

For purposes of the ACUPCC, climate neutrality is defined as having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be achieved by minimizing GHG emissions as much as possible, and using carbon offsets or other measures to mitigate the remaining emissions.

"Our aggressive time frame makes sense in terms of good global citizenship as well as Colgate's academic mission," said Herbst, "and it is also fiscally responsible."

Click here to learn more.

Colgate enters innovative carbon offsets agreement

As part of its aggressive push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance sustainability, Colgate has signed a 15-year commitment with Patagonia Sur to purchase forestry-based carbon offsets. Under the agreement, a total of 225,000 native-species trees will be planted on 430 acres of land in Chile's Aysén Region of Patagonia.

The Colgate University Forest, as the land will be known, will meet or exceed global verified carbon standard requirements. Annually, the forest will offset approximately 5,000 tons, or about one-third of Colgate's present carbon footprint.

Click here to learn more.

Colgate University Receives National Climate Leadership Award

On June 23, 2011, Colgate received Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Award in the Baccalaureate category from the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). At the organization's Climate Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., John Pumilio, Colgate's sustainability coordinator, and Lyle Roelofs, provost and dean of the faculty, accepted the award on the university's behalf.

In 2010, Colgate University reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent (from 17,323 MTeCO2 in 2009 to 14,451 MTeCO2 in 2010). This reduction is mainly the result of conservation and efficiency projects through:
  • a 24 percent decrease in fuel oil consumption (nearly 88,000 gallons less in 2010 compared to 2009)
  • a 4 percent decrease in electricity consumption (1.3 million kWh less in 2010 compared to 2009)
  • a 33 percent decrease in paper use (43,000 lbs less in 2010 compared to 2009)
  • a 4 percent decrease in landfill waste (34 tons less in 2010 compared to 2009)

Combined, conservation and efficiency saved the university nearly $300,000 in operating costs while enhancing its liberal arts education as student participation was integral to these results through academic research, governance, and co-curricular club activities. Additionally, student-driven behavior change programs such as Eco-Olympics and the Green Living Program were designed by students and implemented for the first time in 2010.

In 2010, Colgate used 23,000 tons of locally-grown wood chips to provide heat and hot water to campus. Their wood-fired boiler displaced over one million gallons of fuel oil, avoided over 13,000 metric tons of emissions, and saved the university over $2 million in energy costs. CU is also experimenting with cropped biomass in the form of an 8-acre willow plot in the hopes of cultivating some of its own energy.

In 2010, the institution also implemented a full-blown electronic waste recycling program with 18 stations located throughout campus, implemented a new composting program, and broke ground on a new half-acre community vegetable garden. Vegetables and herbs from the garden were sold back to the university and served in its dining halls. Each program was funded by the Class Gift of 2010 and, students are currently overseeing each of these initiatives. Colgate’s administration leads by creating opportunities and opening pathways for student research and innovation.

Regarding transportation, Colgate expanded its Green Bikes program by purchasing an additional 12 bikes and introduced a new online carpooling program in order to help reduce its employee commuting emissions.

Colgate’s Green Office Program, also introduced in 2010, is indicative of their approach. Eight teams representing 65 employees registered for and are actively pursuing official Green Office Certification.

In April of 2010, Colgate’s faculty officially approved the goals of a Colgate education. Among them, they specified that a Colgate education should enable students to “recognize their individual and collective responsibilities for the stewardship of the earth’s resources and the natural environment” and graduate as “engaged citizens strive for a just society.” To meet these ends, Colgate offers numerous courses focused on sustainability and climate change.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Colgate Community Vegetable Garden hosts its first Work Party of the 2011 season!

Members of the Colgate campus community showed up yesterday afternoon for the first Colgate Vegetable Garden Work Party of the 2011 season!

The Colgate vegetable garden is in its second season, having been established in June of last year. The garden is managed during the summer by two student interns - Ray Peña ('12) and Jess Halter ('13). Cazenovia resident and life-long gardener Stacey Nagle works as a part-time consultant for the garden, lending her expertise to Ray and Jess.

Ray, Jess, and Stacey have had their hands full so far this season, battling weeds and recreating raised beds that had been swept away by heavy Spring flooding earlier this year. Their hard work is paying off, and many crops have been planted, including squash, cucumbers, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, hot peppers, and radishes to name a few. The garden crew has plans for an herb garden in the near future as well.

Yesterday's work party was attended by a number of volunteers from the campus community. The volunteers helped spread black mulch on the raised plant beds, and in so doing helped the recently planted crops retain water. Volunteers also helped spread wood chips on paths between the raised beds, which will allow visitors the chance to explore the garden without being mired in mud. After their hard work, volunteers were treated to Iced Tea and shade by the garden shed.

Colgate's Community Vegetable Garden is an excellent example of the kinds of sustainability initiatives occuring all over the campus. The garden was conceived of by students and financed by Colgate's Sustainability Fund and the Sustainability Council. In its second year, the garden hopes to involve the campus community - students, staff, faculty, and Hamilton residents - in the gardening process, and promote sustainable agriculture. Come harvest time, the crops will be made available to students at the garden shed, located next to the garden in the area behind the Newell Apartments.

Students wishing to get involved with the garden can join the Green Thumbs campus group ( or contact the Sustainability Office ( Jess, Ray, and Stacey hope to host more work parties over the summer and fall, and welcome the assistance of anyone interested. Follow Colgate Sustainability on twitter (@colgatesstnblty), or on Facebook () for information about future Garden work parties and all things green at Colgate!