September 20, 2004 | General


BioCycle September 2004, Vol. 45, No. 9, p. 22
One of the greenest universities in the nation, Washington State University continues to ramp up its composting and recycling activities involving staff, faculty and students.
Dan Emerson

SINCE 1994, Washington State University has operated a major composting facility, processing 12,000 tons of collected organic material annually. Much of that material is generated by the school’s two largest academic entities: College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and College of Veterinary Medicine.
Located about four blocks east of the main campus in Pullman on the school’s agricultural land, the approximately 5.5-acre composting facility includes four acres of asphalt pad and about 1.5 acres of leachate retention ponds. (All of the composting is done outside on the asphalt.) The standard mix of feedstocks being composted consists of bedding and manure, straw, coal ash, greenhouse soil and potting plants, dining hall food residuals, chipped wood and yard trimmings. Shredded woody materials are used as bulking agent.
WSU’s self-sustaining composting operation handles about 24,000 cubic yards of feedstock material annually, producing about half that amount in finished compost. The CAHNRS dairy farm and greenhouses, along with the university’s dining facilities, all feed into the composting facility, which handles coal ash from the school’s coal-burning power plant (recently replaced by a new, natural gas-fired facility). Two 12-yard dump trucks are used daily to pick up and deliver feedstock. The university uses about 300 cubic yards of compost a year for its own landscaping purposes. In addition, John Glass, director of Materials and Resources Management, estimates that 2,000 yards were applied to CAHNRS fields last year.
WSU also sells its compost locally to nurseries and landscapers in Pullman. Its largest compost buyer is Northland Landscaping, based in Spokane, about 70 miles to the north.
The university uses some of its compost in an animal bedding product that is sold to the university’s veterinary hospital and animal sciences facilities.
The decision was made to increase the internal use of compost in order to reduce potential problems associated with the herbicide-contaminated compost (picloram/clopyralid) that was detected about two years ago. Any herbicide concentration of more than 50 parts per billion can affect certain broadleaf plants, such as tomato plants. The school unknowingly sold the tainted compost to local retailers who sold it to gardeners. The problem came to light “when local growers realized their tomato plants were not quite happening,” Glass explains. “We tackled that problem by instigating a policy to only buy hay and straw from certain vendors, and seeking ways to market the compost/bedding products internally” to reduce any liability risk.
The equipment WSU uses to produce its compost includes a West Salem Manufacturing High Torque Shredder Model 1662HT. “It is a relatively compact unit that fits nicely into a corner of the recycling warehouse,” according to Rick Finch compost manager. “We have been able to keep up with the wood waste stream by shredding two or three times a week, with one operator (at a time) working four to six hour shifts. Our screen plant is a CEC 4X6 “Rascal” Ball deck shaker. It functions fairly well with wet material in the early spring and is a versatile machine in handling different types of products.”
Along with the environmental benefits, cost avoidance is another major benefit of the school’s composting program. Hauling the organic materials to the local landfill would cost the school about $1.5 million a year, Glass estimates – 9,600 tons at $162 a ton to haul (including tipping fees).
In connection with WSU’s composting program, several university departments have applied for a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology ‘s Biomass Resource to Energy-Organic Reclamation Project to build a transportable, demonstration anaerobic digester. The digester would convert dairy manure and municipal waste to biogas for electricity generation, and high-quality compost. The departments involved include WSU’s Center for Sustained Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR), Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Composting Facility, WSU Dairy Center, Department of Animal Science and the Department of Biological Systems Engineering. The digester would be sited at the compost facility, which is relatively close to the new energy plant. “We’re thinking out of the box, if the technology proves itself, we would like to be able to feed a line directly into the energy plant to supplement the generating capacity,” Glass says. The digester would be portable so it could be moved to other locations, for example, western Washington to be used for processing fish waste.
Since the late ’80s, WSU has had “a fairly successful” recycling program on campus, according to Glass. In 1998 the National Recycling Coalition honored the school as the top recycler among the nation’s colleges and universities. About two years ago, WSU ramped up its recycling efforts and launched its Waste Wise-Shared Responsibility campus recycling program. Judi Dunn, recycling education coordinator, heads up that program and works closely with Wayne Wright, Recycling/Waste Collection, supervisor. He and his staff provide a significant amount of operational support for the Waste Wise – Shared Responsibility program.
The recycling operation collects and sells 24 different commodities. Daily material collection is provided to all academic and administrative buildings. Dunn and her staff are currently working to implement a “more sophisticated” collection system that would also include WSU’s residence halls. For the school year 2002/2003, WSU recycled 1,700 tons of commodities, including (300) tons of cardboard and (250) tons of mixed paper. The school was on-pace to collect nearly 1,900 tons in 2003/2004, Glass notes. Prior to a couple of years ago, “our recycling rate had stabilized at 38 percent (of waste material recycled). Glass indicates, “The current recycling rate is 52-53 percent and our overall goal is pretty aggressive; we want to get to 75 percent.” To reach that goal, WSU has reevaluated and revised its collection strategies, and added some new resources and marketing strategies, he notes.
Program changes included making sure all work stations had desk-side recycling collection containers. To “get a little more buy-in from upper administration,” Glass requested and received a formal endorsement supporting the recycling program from WSU President V. Lane Rawlins.
In order to convert to the Waste Wise recycling program, Dunn conducted an audit of each work area to determine how many centralized collection locations would be needed. For efficient collection, the waste and recycling containers were sized so that they would each tend to fill up at about the same time, and could be simultaneously taken to central locations. “We’ve tried to make it as efficient as possible,” Glass says. The changes have helped increase campus-wide participation, he says – with a 20 percent increase after one year, and another 15 percent increase in 2004. “So, we’re definitely making headway.”
WSU sells its baled, recycled material to companies in Spokane, or in Seattle 250 miles way. Because of the distance to Seattle, “we try to use those markets sparingly,” Glass says. Two major buyers are Spokane Recycling Products and Fibers International, Inc. of Everett, Washington. Recycled metal is sold in Lewiston, Idaho, about 30 miles away.
“The market is cyclical, but prices have held up pretty well compared to last year. For cardboard, we get $90 a ton, and $170 a ton for white ledger paper. Since last year, mixed paper has gone from $52 to $60 a ton.
When cost avoidance is factored in, WSU’s recycling operation is “fairly close to the break-even point,” Glass says. “Our budget is not in the black, but when you consider how much it would cost to haul all of that material to a landfill, it would cost much more.” The recycling department brings in about $220,000 in annual gross revenue. The revenue is comprised of charge-for-service billings to selected campus units and selling the collected commodities to brokers. Other revenue is generated by providing contract, waste management services to contractors doing construction and remodeling on campus. Overall, “we need to increase our volume and revenue stream,” Glass says, since state budgeting represents a perennial challenge” – although, he points out, WSU receives less than 30 percent of its total funding from the state.
Last year, Washington State University had the honor of being the first major university accepted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Environmental Performance Track program. The program recognizes top environmental performers and encourages both public and private organizations that voluntarily go beyond compliance with environmental regulations and publicly commit to specific improvements over the succeeding three years. In accepting the designation, the university committed to decreasing air pollutants by constructing and using a new energy plant for its campus. By 2005, WSU commits to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 50 percent and its sulfur dioxide emission by more than 85 percent.
WSU’s recognition as one of the “greenest” universities in the nation is the result of its composting and recycling activities by the school, staff, faculty and students. Sums up Glass: “We’re trying to lead the pack as much as we can, and we’ve got a good strategy in place to do that.”

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