Recycling Progress: MTU campus planning for improvement

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jay Meldrum, executive director of sustainability on Michigan Technological University, speaks at a Copper Country Recycling Initiative forum April 11.

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University’s recycling efforts are improving, though it is not where it hopes to be.

Jay Meldrum, Tech’s executive director of sustainability, spoke at a Copper Country Recycling Initiative forum April 11.

Tech’s recycling rate is at 15 percent, around the average state rate but less than half of its capacity, Meldrum said.

The university is measuring itself on the sustainability tracking and assessment reporting system (STARS), a framework for higher learning institutions to track their level of sustainability created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Tech would stand at a bronze today on the system, which goes up to platinum.

Its target is gold, at which point it will apply for certification.

Tech uses over 6 megawatts of energy, which allows it to participate in Michigan’s electric choice program. Fifty percent of the energy it purchases is wind, Meldrum said.

The university also has 30 kilowatts worth of donated solar panels, which helps to reduce energy costs.

Meldrum brought up a number of Tech activists, including the Tech Forward initiative on promoting sustainability. The program, which will launch either this summer or next spring, will get $1 million in seed money over four to five years.

Part of the grant will potentially go adding more recycling bins throughout the 26 buildings on campus.

“If you give students and faculty and staff the opportunity, if they trip over the container, maybe they’ll find out they should be putting something in it,” Meldrum said.

Departments have blue bins, which are emptied into 90-gallon bins by the buildings’ loading docks. Facilities Management hires students to place the recycling from those bins into a recycling compactor, the product of which is picked up by Waste Management.

“Very few faculty, staff, students, know that process,” Meldrum said. “Some of them don’t even know they recycle.”

The university is making a video to let students know; another one will remind faculty and staff. Other measures have included recycling audits of buildings on campus.

Tech is pursuing a grant for a large composting system. Even one of its four cafeterias produces 250 tons of discarded food every day, he said.

Meldrum is also looking at bokashi, a fermenting process which converts food over two weeks into a non-odorous material that can be put in gardens.

Students at the Sustainability Demonstration House are also trying out a kitchen composter from Whirlpool.

With the number of employees and students, Tech has a large ecological footprint, said Evan McDonald of the CCRI. Researchers have also studied recycling technology and social science considerations.

“Having Michigan Tech is both a resource to our local community and this effort to try to improve recycling, but also they’re in the community, and we need to be working together to have a successful program,” he said.