Clean and green
MSU officials, students partnering to drive campus sustainability efforts
Liz Brajevich is not too unlike the thousands of other students at MSU.
She goes to class, hangs out with her friends and enjoys cheering on the Spartans at MSU sporting events.
But one thing makes Brajevich distinct from the other students at MSU: She keeps a large container of worms underneath her bed.
“People think that’s disgusting at first,” Brajevich, a fisheries and wildlife and environmental economics and policy freshman, said, adding the idea grows on people when they learn what she uses it for.
Brajevich’s worm compost, or vermicompost, system allows her to recycle apple cores and banana peels she might have and helps her do her part in making MSU more sustainable.
Her idea isn’t groundbreaking — MSU’s Student Organic Farm has its own vermicompost system — but soon worms will be making an even bigger impact on MSU’s campus when Brajevich’s team of fellow Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment, or RISE, students construct an new system inside the new Bailey GREENhouse.
And she isn’t the only one moving to make MSU more sustainable.
From a new Be Spartan Green Fund that provides grants for student sustainability projects to MSU’s Energy Transition Plan, it seems Spartans are working hard to become even greener.
Food to fuel
Whether or not students know it, when they eat at Brody Square, they already are taking part in university efforts to be sustainable.
Although Eat At State’s Clean Plates at State program encourages students to be wary of how much food they leave on their plates at the end of a meal, students who eat at the Brody Square dining hall can feel a little better knowing their leftovers actually are being recycled.
Flowing behind the tray return station at Brody Square is a pulper system that helps reduce the level of waste coming out of the dining hall and into landfills, said Carla Iansiti, a sustainability officer in Culinary Services.
But Brody’s waste isn’t even making it to the landfill.
Eventually, that “pulped” waste is collected and sent to MSU’s Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center, where manure from MSU cows helps to further recycle the excess food, Iansiti said.
Dana Kirk, manager of the center, said the digestion system uses a sealed tank with no oxygen, high temperatures and microorganisms that naturally occur in manure to break down organic matter.
He said the process creates biogas, which results in renewable energy.
What’s left creates a fertilizer — creating a circle of sustainability.
“It’s a good environmental practice,” Kirk said. “The next phase is to build a larger digester.”
Kirk said thanks to $5.1 million allocated by the MSU Board of Trustees, the center should be breaking ground on a larger-scale digester — perhaps the largest one at any U.S. university — which will provide renewable energy to run electricity in southern parts of campus.
The system, which should be operational by July 2013, will help recycle food waste from campus and Greater Lansing, including waste from a Meijer distribution center, which is a partner in the project.
“We’re always thinking about sustainability at the university,” Kirk said. “It’s always on our mind, and we’re always trying to find ways to do it that work for us.”
“We’re working every day to get things rolling,” said environmental economics and policy junior Molly Black, who also is working toward a specialization in sustainability. “Very soon, (MSU) will be caught up to other universities.”
As a part of her work at the Sustainable Energy Institute, a student organization partnering with the Office of Campus Sustainability, Black has been researching other universities, including the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University, and their efforts to be sustainable.
“Sometimes, (other universities) have more money or more access (to instruments of sustainability),” Black said. “We’re trying really hard, and … I feel like we’re catching up pretty quickly.”
That hope likely is shared with MSU’s Board of Trustees, which in April approved the Energy Transition Plan.
The plan unanimously was approved by the board, and at the time, Trustee Dianne Byrum called it “a living and dynamic plan.”
The plan outlines the university’s efforts to reach 100 percent renewable energy at some point in the future, with new goals every five years to reduce greenhouse emissions and increase MSU’s level of renewable energy.
Renewable projects in the plan include an anaerobic digester, geothermal energy at the new Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research and the increased use of biofuels at the T.B. Simon Power Plant.
Smaller plans in MSU’s sustainability future include an egg colony and a trayless Shaw dining hall, Iansiti said at a fall Residence Halls Association meeting.
Students might be the key to campus sustainability, but they have to know about it first — something Black said many might not.
To lead the way, MSU’s Student Organic Farm is using its own vermicompost system, an aquatonics system that uses fish feces as fertiliser and provides educational programs to teach students about sustainability, said horticulture junior Charles Defever, a crew member at the farm.
“It makes me more personally invested in the university itself,” Defever said. “It makes me feel like I’ll leave a legacy when I leave here.”
Residence Education and Housing Services, or REHS, is hoping more students feel the same way. REHS is encouraging student participation in MSU’s sustainability efforts through the Be Spartan Green Fund, which is funding Brajevich’s project.
But there might be even easier ways than starting a full-blown project, according to Black.
Black said she works to live a more sustainable lifestyle by unplugging anything she’s not using, turning off extra lights and turning off the faucet when she brushes her teeth.
If students do want to get more heavily involved on campus, she said students hardly need to look far.
“There are a lot of opportunities for students to get involved,” she said.