But acting grounds manager Al Pearson and his team have returned to the movement’s roots, instituting a process to reuse plant waste on campus. For the past two years, instead of being hauled away, vegetative waste has been converted into mulch on-site and used as fertilizer.
This task is accomplished by a local contractor who comes to campus three times per year, Pearson said. Fallen trees, branches, bushes and grass clippings — even ivy — become the topping for soil around growing trees and flower beds.
“Before, we would have a contractor come take a [fallen] tree and get rid of it, or we’d hold it in the yard and have someone come in at the end of the year to get rid of the big waste,” Pearson explained, noting that groundskeepers would buy mulch from outside vendors at the same time.
At that time, Princeton was recycling only minimal portions of its vegetative waste and still “spending $30,000 to $40,000 a year on mulch purchases, and thousands more to purchase soil,” University spokesperson Cass Cliatt ’96 said in an e-mail.
To confront this inefficiency, Pearson and several other facilities employees began looking for a “better way of doing business,” Pearson said.
The current system has nearly eliminated this problem, as groundskeepers now dispose of only 2 percent of waste — like pinecones — that “we don’t want to put back into the ground,” Pearson explained.
In the initial year, the new contractor “produced 2,000 yards of mulch and 500 yards of soil ... proving the worth of the initiative,” Cliatt said.
She said that the new process saved the University $15,000, even after deducting the contractor’s compensation.
Pearson said that the change yielded vast economic and environmental improvements. One benefit of the new system is fresher mulch and very good compost, he added.
Pearson said that making campus more sustainable is one his biggest concerns. Other sustainability efforts currently in the works include improvements to water drainage and dispersion, better water efficiency and more biodiesel use.
Pearson has also been working with other administrative departments, such as the Office of Design and Construction, the Engineering Department and the Office of Sustainability to implement a slew of other side projects. These projects include efforts to use more efficient lighting systems, build meadows for better water usage and design greener rooms on campus.
Shana Weber, manager of the Office of Sustainability, said that landscaping efforts are key to campus sustainability.
“Landscaping approaches are an important component of any comprehensive campus sustainability plan because they influence water usage, storm water runoff, chemical usage, habitat value, ground permeability, carbon sequestration into campus biomass, soil health, tree health, labor efficiency, fuel use and local air quality, to name a few,” she said in an e-mail.
The value of groundskeeping projects is also “a very visible demonstration of the campus commitment to sustainability, so [it] is an important part of communicating its principles,” Weber added.
Pearson said he is optimistic about future efforts in light of the collaborative spirit among members of the University community.
“Everyone interacts together, everybody is thinking [in terms of sustainability now,] so people are buying into the system,” Pearson said, noting that his projects have faced little to no obstacles. The cost of these projects, he added, have been paid for by money saved on materials.
A willingness to try new approaches, Pearson said, has situated the University “on the cutting edge of sustainability efforts.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/02/10/25089/