Grand Rapids Community College’s staff had a welcome back event on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 7 with a spread of fresh fruit, eggs and bacon. All of which were consumed and/or discarded with not one piece going to a landfill.
This was GRCC’s first ‘Zero Waste’ event. All utensils, plates, cups, etc. were “completely recyclable, reusable or compostable” according to a press release. There were also “compost police” as GRCC President Bill Pink described them, to help people find and use the new compost bins which are at every place food is served on campus. Executive director of facilities, Jim Vandokkumburg, said the school intends to put these bins across the whole campus eventually.
GRCC is also participating, for the first time, in a national rivalry between several other higher education institutions titled “RecycleMania.” Participating colleges measure their waste and recycling thoroughly in multiple different ways and can win money in separate awards. There is a per capita award, a total electronics recycled award, a food organics award, etc. Check out the website for more details.
Another competition GRCC is part of this year is the Michigan green initiative called “Battle of the Buildings,” that GRCC has entered before. According to the official website, the competition is “a way to inspire energy-efficient practices in buildings across the state and to instill a spirit of friendly competition among the building owners and operators.”The Leslie E. Tassell M TEC building located at 622 Godfrey Ave. is the building that will be entering the competition on behalf of GRCC.
GRCC has been recycling on campus for years.
Campus Dining has also been working on improving their environmental impact by using more compostable materials. Pointed out by the press release, “Single-use plastics – which are most common at dining events – last for decades.”
“They introduced composting to the college. They deserve credit,” said Vandokkumburg. Every food service station has three bins for disposal: red ‘landfill’ labels; yellow recycle labels; and green compost labels. The new colors are supposed to resemble traffic lights. GRCC’s Art & Bevs next to the Heritage Restaurant is almost entirely composting.
Mike Kidder, associate director of operations at the Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts, talked about how there are always things to improve upon. “We’re looking into compostable, or at least recyclable, gloves right now because these students go through hundreds every day,” Kidder said. The students sort the trash and have even taken it upon themselves to initiate change. “A couple of students from Art & Bevs came to me and said, ‘We have to throw away all these salt and pepper shakers because they aren’t recyclable.’” Campus dining is now switching to recyclable shakers.
There are even more benefits to these changes beyond just environmental sustainability.
“Infrastructure to support environmentally sustainable decisions has grown to the point where in some cases it’s now fiscally sustainable as well. Compostable plates are now cheaper than what we used to use, which were plates made of recycled paper,” Director of Dining Services Keaton Krupa said. “We have to keep looking into things like this as the infrastructure changes.”
At the staff planning event on Jan. 7, President Pink asked the staff and students to help come up with ideas to better the college, specifically concerning topics he covered in his Welcoming Speech. This includes sustainability and other things important to the college like mental health. It’s called the Innovation Initiative and the administration is accepting ideas until Feb. 2.
For those of us who aren’t well versed in what sustainability means, here is an informational link suggested by Mike Vargo, Dean of GRCC’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Mike Vargo is a leader of the College Action Project heading up ‘CAP’ 5.3, which is focused on the strategic goal of implementing “a campus-wide sustainability effort,” said Vargo.
“Facilities staff kept track of these events (the three days of staff planning on Jan 7-9) and tell us that from the hundreds of meals served at those events, 32 large (30-50 gal) bags of compostables were collected and routed to the commercial composting facility. That is 32 large bags of plates, cups, silverware and food waste that will not end up in the landfill,” said Vargo