Friday, December 01, 2006

Greening Santa Monica College I: worms etc.

Santa Monica College (SMC) where I work has showed a commitment to ecology the last 5 years by recylcing and its Sustainable Works education Program but recently its enviornmental paractices and been criticized by students. Before I deal with the criticism, I liked to describe SMC's current practices.

When I started teaching there I was happy to see the blue recyling bins in the cafeteria and the faculty computer room. I've taught in a lot of colleges, but SMC was the first one I taught in using recyling bins. Now in SMC's student cafeteria there are bins for newspapers/paper; cans, glass, and plastic; and waste. According is Madeline Brodie, the college's recyling coordinator, SMC has a "reputation for one of the best recyling programs in the state. " The colleges recyles 85 of its waste, much of it made up of construction waste, but if you leave out construction waste it recycles 65% of campus waste.

On the website is exellent information how the campus reclyces, with different sections and photos on each recyling area: paper reclying; the worms recyling; construction and demolition materials recyling; toner and inkjet cartridges.

As for the paper collected in all the blue bins, student worker Takao Yamzaki empties the blue cans into a dumpster provided by The Paper Depot. The Paper Depot truck picks up and empties the filled dumpsters , and the trucks take the paper to the Paper Depot in Orange, California, where each SMC load is weighed so the college receives credit and compensation. Then the paper is dumped into a huge mountain where a hand sorter removes any confidential paper and then a second person hand sorts it into three categorites--white, multi-colored, and "post office mix"--before baling it. The bales of paper are then sold to such firms as Fort James paper mills, which transforms the bales into toilet paper then sold back to SMC for use in its toilets!

SMC uses worms to recyle food waste. In November 2001 SMC got two grants to buy and install a 16 ft. Vermitech machine, the second of its kind in California. The college also bought 300,000 Red Wiggler worms and put them into the Vermitech--the worms have grown to 500,000. Htakao Yamzaki, student worker, and Sam Martin, custodian, prepare the worms food which is discarded food from the cafeterias, cardboard, and brown papertowels.

When the worm food is ready, the custodian feeds it to the 500,000 worms which dump worm castings into the bottom of the Vermitech where they are "harvested." The gardeners then use the warm castings as fertilizer on campus plants, particulary the hibiscus plants infected with white flies since these particular worm casting fertilizers are supposed to provide resistance to white flies. When I went to the Modern Language Association convention and tried to describe
SMC to faculty from other parts of the nation, I always mentioned our famous worms!

SMC has been demolishing buildings before building new buildings, so it has recycled construction and demoliton matierals. American Waste Industries picks up demolished materials on campus and trucks them to its plant in Sun Valley where the trucks are weighed. One such truck from SMC weighed three tons! The truck then dumps its load onto the "tipping floor" where large items such as plywood, wooden pallets, and large scrape metal are removed. After numerous sortings, 90% of material is removed. Wood, for example, is ground into 2" bits, blended with soil, and sold to landscapers for gardening. The remaning 10% goes to a Sunshine Canyone Lanfill in Sylmar, California, where it is sorted into three sizes, with some sold to landscapers and nurseries. The SMC Grounds Department buys some of this dirt which they used for newly seeded grass areas and for mixed soil blends.

Missed Information, SMC's online newspaper, says that still 30-40% of recylable bottles and cans don't end up in recylce bins but are dumped in trash cans. Many students don't know anything about the campuses recyling, so Sustainable Works, SMC's other important enviornmental program, has students making classroom visits to encourage use of the recyle bins. So the college has the recyling program in place but needs to do more convincing of students to use it.

Sustainable Works, located at 1744 Pearl Street, also does brilliant education work both on-campus and off. It offers nine-week sustainable crew program to about 400 students per year. For a number of years I've have a Sustainable Works speaker come to make English classes to explain that if the students take part in the 12-hour training program on how to have better environmental practices in their lives, they can get extra-credit for my class.

Furthermore, Sustainable Works sponsors the Environmental Lecture Series, bringing some imporant speakers to campus, and a environmental Studies AA degree. They have a Green Business program offering Santa Monica businesses a free assessment how their current practices affect the earth and recommendations how the business can go green. Lastly, they have two gardens in front of its Pearl Street building: one a garden that uses native plants and little water next door to a garden that uses non-natives plants which consume much water. The campus has also had a fine environmental film series.

Clearly the Sustainable Works program and the Recyling Program are both good programs but have functioned independtly. The campus is realizing that it's not enough just to have recyling bins; recylcing must be accompanied by education, so now its beginning to do the education, having Sustainable Works and the recyling program reinforce each other. I'd make a small suggestion. If campus recyling information or even a seminar on recyling isn't part of orientation for new students, then why not? In another blog I'll discuss the recent student criticisms of SMC's practices.

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