This article first appeared in The Tartan on September 28th 2010 //
Radford University continues to receive positive attention for its efforts toward becoming a more sustainable campus. The most recent mentions came after the arrival of “Bonnie’s Big Belly,” which was installed outside the Bonnie Hurlburt Student Center.
The “Big Belly” trash compactor is a solar-powered cordless trash compaction system, that compacts trash and recyclable waste, allowing for five times the capacity of normal trash bins. By compacting the trash and recyclables, pick-ups are reduced, potentially cutting down on fuel use and emissions by 80 percent. Since it’s solar, it operates for a full day on about the same amount of energy required to make a piece of toast.
Sustainability coordinator Julio Stephens sees the Big Belly as a way “to get people thinking about the trash they throw away, what they are recycling, and ways to use renewable energy.”
Stephens is glad it has brought positive attention to the university’s sustainability efforts.
“It may be a small token of some of those initiatives, but if it gives a bigger voice and shines a bigger light on some of the other issues we’re working on, then that’s great,” Stephens said.
In the past year, RU has been named in the Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges, as well as Blue Ridge Outdoors’ list of the greenest colleges in the Southeastern United States.
Stephens had a lot of good things to say about the multitude of projects he works on, as well as the competitions RU is involved in. One of those is Recyclemania, which is a 10-week nationwide competition to see how much college campuses can recycle. Last year, RU’s average recycle rate was 31 percent.
The university also partners with the local YMCA for an annual event called Y-Toss. The event takes place during move-out and offers students an opportunity to donate items they no longer need, rather than throwing them away. Last spring’s collection diverted a little less than 15,000 pounds of waste from local landfills. Initial move-in items are then available for students to purchase from the YMCA Thrift Shop when they return to school in the fall.
Recycling may be the most obvious and visible of Radford’s steps to “going green,” but there are a number of other methods around campus that are making a difference. The housekeeping staff is using green cleaning products in all residence halls, and in many other campus buildings as well. Lighting in a number of buildings is retrofitted with motion sensors that turn lights on and off when necessary, reducing energy consumption. The campus transportation system is also environmentally friendly, using biodiesel and electric alternatives.
There are filtered water bottle filling stations in place in the Bonnie and outside the gyms in Peters Hall and Muse to help reduce bottled water waste. Dalton Dining Hall is also contributing to sustainability by composting food waste, as well as offering more responsible and environmentally friendly food options. Dalton is using a tray-less dining system, to cut down on the amount of water used in their operations.
In October 2009, RU President Penelope Kyle signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in a step toward becoming carbon-neutral. Part of that commitment involves completing a greenhouse gas inventory, which is due in January 2011. At that point, the university will begin to develop a climate action plan.
Stephens says a lot of schools are looking at a 20-50 year plan.
“It sounds like it’s a long way off, and hard to think about, but you’ve really got to start putting those steps and initiatives in place now and start making some of those things happen,” Stephens said.
One of the goals is to focus on the amount of energy used on campus and how it is generated, and to move to more sustainable ways to produce it.
Student involvement is also important to reaching these sustainability goals. At the hands-on level, students can become involved in campus organizations that focus on environmental and sustainability issues. One of those organizations is the Environmental Club, whose main mission is educating students, faculty and staff on environmental awareness and sustainability. The club has about 25 active members.
RU junior Joe Rudolph has been active with the Environmental Club for two years, and is currently serving as vice president. According to Rudolph, one of the club’s goals for this year is outreach.
“We really are trying to incorporate any club, or anyone who is interested, because honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re a marketing or fashion design, or chemistry major,” Rudolph said. “You truly can incorporate sustainability into any field.”
The Environmental Club participates in or sponsors several events each year, including Earth Day and Sustainability Week activities, Arbor Day and Recyclemania. Last year’s Earth Day festival on Heth lawn was one of their biggest events. They went out and invited area schools to participate and offered kid-friendly events, held a tree planting ceremony and awarded one fraternity and one sorority for their sustainability efforts. Members also volunteer for events such as river cleanups.
This year’s river cleanup will be held on Sunday, Oct. 10th at 10:30 a.m. The cleanup is a response to a volunteer day being promoted by the grassroots organization 350, which is dedicated to uniting the world around solutions to the climate crisis. Rudolph says the event is open to anyone who would like to attend, and will focus on the area of the New River from Hunter’s Ridge to the end of the fields by the Dedmon Center.
Both Stephens and Rudolph say they feel like the student body’s attitude toward sustainability is generally positive. When asked what students could do to begin making a difference, they both mentioned making wiser and more responsible purchasing decisions, recycling and conserving resources. Other ways are turning off lights, using power-saving settings on computers effectively and actions as simple as printing in draft mode and on both sides of your paper.
Student responses to the university’s sustainability efforts were positive, but there were some concerns voiced.
“I’ve noticed in some dorms, like Muse, there are labels on the walls for recycling,” said freshman Steve Young. “I live in Moffett, and there are no signs. I think we’re making a good effort, but it would be better to expand it more.”
Freshman Tyler Robic agreed “I’ve seen a lot of trash cans, but not so many—I don’t think any recycling bins. I’m new though. I’m a freshman, so maybe they’re out there.”
Brianna Kirker and Jacquelyn Gamble, both freshmen at RU, are roommates in Floyd Hall, and they recycle. Kirker mentioned the recycling area that is set up in the basement, noting that there is a good system in place there.
Gamble agreed, adding “I’m sure it’s so much easier for someone to just throw a bottle away in the trash can than to put it in another bin, but I think that Floyd is doing a good job getting us to recycle.”