Haskell Indian Nations University’s ecoAmbassadors Bolster Composting and Waste Reduction

By Travis Robinett

Not long ago, a student group called the ecoAmbassadors at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., set out to enhance the university’s composting system with the help of an EPA partnership and grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. I recently had the pleasure to see firsthand the successful implementation of these students’ hard work.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell University has improved its composting system this semester, with support from EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Liz Blackburn, tribal solid waste coordinator with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division, set up a meeting recently between Haskell students and Arthur Fink, KDHE composting expert, who was consulted on their plan. He explained how best to monitor and adjust the pile, helping waste break down into healthy compost. Food waste collection for the new system began in early March 2017.

Region 7 has assisted students in bringing composting to Haskell since 2015, building on previous joint efforts from a Memorandum of Agreement between EPA and the university. Blackburn said she’s proud to continue strengthening that partnership.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink (right) gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

“It’s exciting, because I think improving waste management is the best way to target pollution prevention and reduction,” she said.

In 2015, Haskell’s ecoAmbassadors set out to improve the school’s food-waste management with grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. The composting system is a major piece of their waste reduction plan, which arose after fall 2015 assessments at Haskell’s dining hall showed how much food could be composted.

Haskell started composting shortly afterward with a one-bin system, but the students wanted to improve their methods. So they sought out ideas from a variety of places, including EPA and nearby Tribal Nations.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

Based on what they learned, students built three adjacent bins with reused untreated wood pallets. The pallets allow for airflow, which keeps the compost from producing methane. Having three bins allows for older piles to break down while a new one begins.

According to EPA’s composting website, it takes anywhere from two months to two years for food waste to become dark, nutrient-rich compost. Fink said to help it break down, one key aspect to focus on is temperature. He brought a long composting thermometer, which measures the temperature underneath the pile’s surface.

“At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, most pathogens will be destroyed,” Fink said. “It also denatures any seeds.”

KDHE's Arthur Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile recently at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, though it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, but it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

If the temperature drops to 120 degrees and the waste hasn’t broken down yet, he said it’s time to turn the pile.

One of the big benefits of composting and diverting food, Fink said, is that food takes up a lot of landfill space and is heavy to transport. Also in landfills, food often breaks down without oxygen, giving off methane as a byproduct.

Steven Peña, a student in Haskell’s American Indian Studies Program, said he hopes this effort is successful enough that in two to three years, the university can build something more permanent with concrete.

“Also, composting is something you can use at home,” Peña said. “We’re hoping people here take this habit with them.”

About the Author: Travis Robinett has been a Student Intern at EPA Region 7 since June 2016. He is a second-year graduate student at the University of Kansas (KU), working toward a master’s degree in environmental assessment, and holds two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from KU. Travis has a passion for sustainability, public service, teaching, volunteering, and the great outdoors.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Creative Ways to Cut Your Holiday Waste

By Grace Doran and Jessica Kidwell

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, American household waste increases by more than 25 percent. Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.

As we celebrate the holidays, it pays to be mindful of sustainable consumption and materials management practices. They may help you focus even more on caring and celebration during this holiday season, and could even reduce the strain on our fiscal budgets and  the natural environment.

Giving

  • Less is more. Choose items of value, purpose, and meaning – not destined for a yard sale.
  • Give treasure. Pass on a favorite book, plant start, or antique. Check estate sales, flea markets, and resale shops for unique finds.
  • recycling, energy, power, environment and ecology concept - clos

    Consider rechargeable batteries

    Give “anti-matter.” Focus on the experience, rather than wrapping and shipping. Share event tickets, museum memberships, gift certificates, or even your time and talents.

  • Impart values, not wastefulness. Start a child’s savings account, or make a donation to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name.
  • DIY. Handmade food and gifts display your creativity and demonstrate your dedication.
  • Consider the source. Choose recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Shop local to support area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts.
  • Recharge. Consider rechargeable batteries (and chargers) with electronic gifts.
  • Blank linen shopping bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag for your purchases. Avoid bags altogether for small or oversized purchases.

  • Plan ahead. Consolidate your shopping trips to save time, fuel, and aggravation. You’ll have more time for careful gift choices.
  • Rethink the wrap. Reuse maps, comics, newsprint, kid art, or posters as gift wrap. Wrap gifts in recycled paper or a reusable bag. Or skip the gift wrap, hide the gifts, and leaves clues or trails for kids to follow.

Celebrating

  • Trim the tree. Consider a potted tree that can be replanted, or a red cedar slated for removal during habitat/farm maintenance.
  • Light right. Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years.
  • Choose LED lights

    Choose LED lights

    Make it last. Choose and reuse durable service items.

  • Keep it simple. For larger gatherings, choose recyclable or compostable service items. All food-soiled paper products are commercially compostable, unless plastic- or foil-coated.

Looking Ahead

  • Reduce. Donate outgrown clothes, old toys, and unwanted gifts.
  • Reuse packing and shipping materials. Save ribbons, bows, boxes, bags, and décor for the next holiday.
  • Recycle old electronics and batteries with an e-steward.
  • Replant, mulch, or compost your live tree. Compost food scraps.

About the Co-Author: Grace Doran is a student intern in EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, studying civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. Grace has a passion for environmental education, listening to podcasts, running and pizza (and those don’t contradict each other).

About the Co-Author: Jessica Kidwell is a hydrogeologist with EPA Region 7’s Environmental Data and Assessment staff. She’s provided technical expertise and worked with stakeholders to advance scientific, environmental, and sustainability objectives for nearly 20 years.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

“Staying Green” for the Holidays

Christmas tree near dumpster

Don’t let Christmas trees get sent to landfills where they can contribute to dangerous methane gas emissions! Treecycle and turn them into compost or wood chips for mulch. (Source: Flickr user katielehart)

 

By Barbara Pualani

The winter holiday season is one of the best times of the year, but it is arguably one of the most wasteful. As we online shop, cook big holiday meals, wrap presents and decorate our homes, Americans create about one million extra tons of waste – this equals about a 25 percent volume increase of household waste, all generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But don’t let this ruin your holiday spirit! There are simple ways to “stay green” during the holidays while still maintaining the holiday cheer.

  • Recycle creatively by using eclectic gift wrapping. Old newspapers, comic books, posters, and magazines can all be used to wrap presents. Also, save bows, ribbons, and bags for reuse next year.
  • If Santa brings you new electronics, be sure to recycle the old ones. Because they can be a source of contamination, it is illegal to dispose of electronic waste in landfills in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Most electronic retailers offer a free buy-back option. In New York City, the Department of Sanitation has established special waste drop-off locations in each of the five boroughs. In addition, e-cycleNYC is a free recycling collections service that can be solicited for buildings with ten or more units. Check local and state websites for other programs as well.
  • Use LED lighting for all your holiday decorations. They use approximately 75 percent less energy and last longer than regular incandescent bulbs.
  • At the end of the season, don’t send your Christmas tree to the landfill where it contributes to dangerous methane gas emissions. Rather, replant, compost or mulch it! There are various programs available. NYC offers free curbside pickup for a couple weeks in January, and many cities in the metropolitan area have similar programs. On January 9-10 you can also bring your tree to designated NYC parks for MulchFest 2016.
  • Finally, be the best host ever and hold a zero-waste event! When hosting holiday parties, use real glasses, dishes, utensils, and cloth napkins to minimize waste. And plan ahead for meals and parties. It’s not only economical, but it will reduce the amount of food thrown away.

It’s possible to have a fun and happy holiday season while maintaining that “green” lifestyle you cultivate all year long. For these and more winter tips, check out EPA’s website.

 

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Until We Meet Again

By Lina Younes

I’m glad to have been contributing to Greenversations since it was launched back in April, 2008. For the past three years, I’ve been part of the effort to produce bilingual blog posts every Thursday. I’ve covered a wide variety of environmental health issues during that time. My goal has been to increase environmental awareness to English and Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. and worldwide. Essentially, I have wanted to convey one central message: the steps we take in our daily lives, whether at home, at school, in the office, or our community, have a direct impact on our health and the environment as a whole.

I’ve truly enjoyed writing about the debate over the Puerto Rican tree frog in Hawaii. In fact, I have learned a lot during the process from over 120 comments received from residents from both sets of Islands.

Environmental issues such as the proper use of pesticides, waste reduction,  recycling, saving energy, environmental education activities have been very popular. I’ve also used my blog posts to give further insight to EPA’s regulatory process.

However, what I have enjoyed the most during this time has been the opportunity to share my experiences with my youngest daughter. She has truly been an inspiration for many of my blog entries. While I’ve tried to educate her about the importance of the environment, I have learned a lot from her as well. Many times she seems to have wisdom beyond her years.  Either I’m doing something right or she gets it. I couldn’t be happier.

So, while I am glad to have been given the opportunity to participate in this environmental exchange, I will have to go on hiatus for a while. My current responsibilities in the Office of Environmental Education help me to continue working in favor of environmental literacy, but limit the time I have available to write weekly blogposts. At this point, I will not be able to fulfill a weekly commitment to Greenversations. Nonetheless, I hope to resume the conversation or at least contribute from time to time. As always, I would like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.