As Arizona State University continues to reach its goal of 100 percent reduction of solid and water waste by 2025, it looks to its own students and faculty for results on waste composting.
Bonny Bentzin, director of university sustainability practices, believes that ASU has already shown great efforts in creating recycling habits and reducing waste around the Tempe campus. About 90 percent of the campus has a recycling bin next to every trash can in Tempe, some even containing a solar panel for compactors.
Bentzin said that one of the biggest challenges on the Tempe campus is contamination within the recycling bins. Contamination refers to items that are not actually recyclable but are placed in the recycling cans anyway. An example of this would be a pizza box. It may be cardboard, but the oil on the box makes it unable to be recycled. If there is more than 20 percent contamination in a recycling bin, the whole bin is unable to be recycled.
"If 70 percent do it right and 25 percent do it wrong, it doesn't matter," Bentzin said.
Student participation is key in reaching the end goal for the carbon neutrality plan and they seem willing to do their part. However, to reduce this contamination, the only way to inform students of what is actually recyclable and what is not, is education. And that is Bentzin's next goal for the campus.
"I walk down the malls and look at the recycling and trash cans and people are doing it right," she said. "For most of our students, recycling is the norm for them."
Professor Aaron Redman teaches a class at the sustainability school that is working on this education with fliers and sheets containing information that his class has been researching.
One of Redman's first-year Ph.D. students, Jared Stoltzfus, believes the students will learn the information they need but it will just be a lot to digest at one time.
"The goal of getting students involved is to make changes in their own lives instead of a program that is hidden," Stoltzfus said. "It will be an overload of education at first but once it becomes the norm you can tune it back a bit."
Redman and his class have been researching ways to deal with ASU's biggest waste challenge - food waste. This food is either raw materials that have never been used to cook with and have gone bad or food that has been scraped off someone's plate and thrown away.
Theoretically, anything that was alive at one point can be composted, Redman said. This would include the short waste, paper products and even cotton products.
"Composting is nature's way of recycling anything that came from it," Redman said.
So it is now up to the students to research and decide what path of composting would be most beneficial and efficient for the university to take.
One option is a gasification plant that is being planned and would be located at the polytechnic campus. The idea of the gasification plant is to have a separate component for the food to be placed in. One of the problems with landfills is the food that has been thrown there releases methane gas, a large component of our green house gas. The idea would be to harness the methane gas and use that as the energy to run the plant.
Food donations have also been a topic discussed among the class. This would give kitchens the opportunity to donate to the community and keep the waste out of ASU's food waste stream.
Nothing has been set in stone but Redman and his class hope that presenting hard research to the university will help move the project along in an efficient and thorough manner within the next five years.
"It's all up in the air right now but we hope to present such a strong case that they want to implement it," Redman said. "A main problem is that ASU doesn't have the numbers, the time and the research to tackle this issue so, hopefully, laying it out like this will make it easy for them to start up."
In the meantime, students like Stoltzfus are excited to be making real sustainable changes on campus.
"I feel like I've gotten to shape the direction we go instead of having it contracted out," Stoltzfus said. "It is encouraging student engagement."
Redman's class, along with ASU's Office of University of Sustainability Practices and Facilities Management, will present their research from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 9, at Wrigley Hall on the ASU Tempe Campus, 800 S. Cady Mall.
To RSVP, contact Katja Brundiers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 965-1304.
• Emily Pomilio is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.