Over the years, the college’s nationally recognized sustainability program has garnered numerous awards for its achievements in making the campus as eco-friendly as possible. The college earned the prestigious silver medal through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) in 2017, as well as various climate leadership awards in 2016 and years previous. Here are a few of the ways in which the college stays environmentally green.
With campus construction in full swing, the Center for Sustainability has faced the struggle of disposing of old furniture and waste in eco-friendly ways.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore usually brings moving trucks to the campus once every two to three months to collect furniture no longer needed by the college, but with all the remodeling and construction on campus the past 18 months, they’ve been coming to the college more frequently, sometimes a couple times a month.
The Center for Sustainability’s Zero Waste coordinator, Krystal Anton, and her team of five interns organized and loaded ReStore trucks with furniture from the library so it can go back into the community and support the mission of the non- profit rather than going into a landfill. Anton said, “it is perfectly good, functional furniture that has either aged out of the system or is no longer needed by the college.”
As far as construction supplies, Anton said the contractors were able to recycle most of the metal that has been used. However, not all the materials can be recycled or repurposed.
The college aims to achieve a “zero waste to landfill” goal; zero waste to landfill means that about 90 percent or higher is diverted from going to the landfill. With the remodel, the college is currently at about 70 percent. Some items, like sheetrock, wood and ceiling tiles could be recycled, but will go to the landfill due to a lack of other options.
“I have some frustrations,” Anton said. “…The region does not have a facility to recycle construction materials. We get most of our contractors to recycle metal, but not all of the [construction and demolition] gets recycled.”
There are many successful campus initiatives that make the college a leader in sustainability. One of the college’s goals was to run on almost 100 percent renewable energy by 2025; through various actions, the campus will meet this goal several years early.
“We have a renewable energy goal that we are going to hit in the next year instead of by 2025,” Anton said. “We will be somewhere like 90 percent renewable energy on campus. We have a lot of solar, you just can’t see it all. In addition to all of our solar power, [Kansas City Power and Light] has a wind farm going up and the college will be able to buy power from the wind farm.”
The college also has a team of people who focus specifically on compost. The Center for Sustainability consists of three full time employees, a director who is also an instructor and five paid interns. The interns collect 500 to 700 lbs. of food scraps from the kitchen, which are used in the campus gardens and composted on the west side of campus. The compost project has saved the campus around $120,000, according to Anton.
However, students and staff are prone to mistakes when deciding between the compost, landfill and recycle bins provided in the food court. Compostable bowls often end up in the landfill bins, while coffee cups, which are not recyclable, often end up in the recycle bins. Taking a reusable container or plate instead of a compostable bowl or using a reusable cup instead of throw-away coffee cups saves the college money and adds to the college’s level of sustainability.
“Learning about how to be sustainable on campus is something every student can do,” Anton said.
Students can get more involved by becoming interns at the Center for Sustainability, becoming involved with the Student Sustainability Committee, which funds sustainable projects on campus, or joining the Student Environmental Club, which is more idea and activity based.
Anton discussed the importance of composting and repurposing materials rather than solely recycling.
“We can’t recycle our way out of the problems that we have,” Anton said. “Even when recycling was good, we produced too much volume. And if you are recycling and not making an effort to buy things that are made from recycled materials, then all you are doing is pushing stuff into the system and you are not taking anything out of it. That is not a circle, and if it isn’t a circle, it isn’t going to work.”
Story by Penny Thieme