Going green: Catawba College makes strides for the environment
By S.D. Blackmore
For The Salisbury Post
Catawba College has made great strides in its journey toward becoming a greener campus over the past few years. Perhaps a resource like The Center for the Environment gives the college an advantage. But so does having students and faculty excited about improving the world around them, as well as the recent addition of the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, with dedicated and passionate employees like office coordinator David Najarian.
The Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, established in June 2007, has helped transform every aspect of Catawba, from its ecological mindset to the appearance of the campus. Today, if you take a tour of Catawba's campus, you'll see sets of three blue recycling containers ó for glass, paper, and aluminum ó inside the buildings, and similar recycling stations outside.
You'll also notice postings of the number of pounds of recycled materials from the previous month, as well as posters displaying the facts about reused materials and their effect on the planet. If you take a look inside the residence halls, you'll spot the new "blue bags" used to hold recyclables in the rooms to be carried outside to the recycling stations.
But the most important thing you'll see is students, faculty and staff actually using these resources.
Najarian says that these are only the visible changes, and that many other important improvements have been made behind the scenes.
When Catawba food service provider Chartwell's became aware of its need to comply with a new ABC law requiring proof of recycling, Najarian used that as an opportunity to begin using Allied Waste, which now allows Catawba to recycle not only brown and clear glass, but green as well.
Another less noticeable improvement comes from a simple addition of a pressure gauge on the school's trash compactor. Prior to the addition of the gauge, the compactor, which can hold up to 10 tons, was emptied unnecessarily once per week.
"That's a waste," Najarian says. "You're using gas, wasting college money, and wasting Waste Management's staff's time." With the gauge, the compactor is emptied only when necessary, saving both money and resources.
The Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling continues to play for a greener future. One environmental problem that the department is currently trying to tackle is food waste. Most of the weight in Catawba's compactor comes from food waste.
But for Najarian, the issue is not just about the cost of a waste pickup. While he was a student at Catawba in the 1990's, he went on a mission trip to several slums in Jamaica.
"They have little villages with people living right there in the landfills," he says. "So I've actually seen, when the trucks come in and dump the raw chicken and the old fruit, people going and collecting it and taking it to eat. It left a lasting impression in me, so I kind of understand that a little bit better."
Najarian doesn't believe most students are quite as aware of the realities of waste.
"I don't think you fully understand until either you've been to a place and seen it or if you grew up in a situation in which it was tough."
So he wants to educate current Catawba students and faculty about the impact that wasting food has on our environment.
"I have a (student assistant), and we hope to have her set up at least once a month around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., during the busy time, in the Student Center, promoting recycling and (awareness about) wasting food," he says.
Education is as important to the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling as it is in the academic departments at Catawba, especially because students are active in the process. In fact, Najarian believes that student awareness and participation in recycling has increased over the last few years.
"The students wanted (a greener college) to start with," he says. " I don't think we would have gotten the support of the President's Office, and the trustees, and the support that we're getting campus-wide if the students didn't want it."
Najarian adds that environmental protection programs have become a selling-point for colleges. "One of the things prospective students look at when they're on the internet surfing (college Web sites) is 'What is this school doing to help the environment? Do they have a recycling program? Are they using green cleaning?' "
Brittney-Anne Cranwell, a full-time student at Catawba, says there is social disapproval of students who don't use the resources provided by the college.
"If you don't recycle," she says, "people look down on you."
A few years earlier, the sight of someone casually tossing a plastic bottle into the trash can wouldn't have attracted much attention. Today, students can be seen taking recyclables out of the garbage and depositing them in the appropriate containers.
Changing attitudes and education aren't restricted to the students. Catawba College is in the process of switching all of its cleaning products over to green seal certified, and part of this process includes educating staff on what makes a green seal product truly green, and about the health aspects of toxic versus planet-friendly cleaners. But the information won't stop there.
"We hope to bring Southeastern Paper sales representative and Catawba alumnus Ben Westmoreland back to campus," Najarian says. Westmoreland and his staff will provide an hour-long overview of the benefits of green cleaning, open to the students, faculty and staff.
Education is necessary to successfully pursue the goal of creating a more permanent, consistent recycling program in an atmosphere where the majority of people are only there for four years.
"About two years ago," Najarian says, "Dr. John Wear and my boss, Henry Haywood, came together and said 'Hey, we're preaching it and it's getting practiced to a certain extent, but these students are brainstorming and coming up with these projects, but then when they graduate they're either dropped or just put on the back burner.' So this office and the Facilities Department are taking these projects and trying to follow through and keep them going."
Catawba student Molly Harris says that despite living off-campus, she takes advantage of the recycling stations at the college.
"We recycle at the apartment, but it's nice to know I can recycle on campus as well, especially when I'm there all day."
The influence of The Center for the Environment has helped her become more environmentally conscious.
"Living with two environmental science majors really opened my eyes to a lot of things you can do," she says.
The most recent addition to Catawba's green process is a trial period arranged with Salisbury Transit. Starting Oct. 13, Catawba students will have access to 50-cent bus tickets, half the cost of normal fare. Stopping at three locations on campus, the buses will give students access to the normal bus route. Not only will bus transportation save students gas money, it will offer them a cleaner alternative to cars.
Whether or not the system will stay in place is up to the students. If Salisbury Transit finds that students have utilized the offer by May 8, 2009, it will likely remain ó and continue to shrink the size of Catawba's environmental footprint.