University rolls out new sustainability initiative, cardboard dumpsters purchased

Tennessee Tech has launched a new sustainability initiative for Tech waste and recycling. The TTU Sustainability Initiative (TTUSI) went into effect at the beginning of this semester.

According to Kevin Tucker, director of Horticulture and Grounds, the change to Tech’s previous initiative began at the end of last spring when Sustainability was considering hiring an outside source to handle all waste management.

“I heard about that and I said ‘We don’t need to do that. Why hire an outside entity to whom it is just another job, as opposed to keeping it within our family where stewardship is important?’” Tucker said. “All the technology is here. We have the resources. Why not be recognized as one of the nation’s leaders in sustainability?”

TTUSI’s first project was to renovate the way cardboard waste was being recycled.

“We purchased 22 dumpsters for cardboard that have small slots which force people to break down boxes before putting them into the container. All of the cardboard from each dumpster is picked up and taken to the Tech farm (located in Overton County) to be made into compost,” said Tucker.

The first cardboard pickup was executed Sept. 18. Cardboard pickups will take place every Thursday.

According to Tucker, cardboard is just a small part of TTUSI. Aluminum and plastic waste will be collected and ultimately processed and manufactured into a useful product.

“We will come up with, through collaboration between Engineering, Agriculture, Chemistry, Biology and the School of Business, products that we can patent and eventually manufacture to make money for the University,” said Tucker.

Examples of possible products are plastic wheel stops, aluminum street signs and aluminum-reinforced planters.

“Ultimately, I am looking for something that is truly patentable that the University can reap benefits from,” said Tucker.

The initiative doesn’t end there. A shredder will be purchased by the end of this semester to be used for shredding food bi-products, cardboard, leaves and wood chips for compost as well as plastic and aluminum waste, according to Tucker.

Once the shredder is purchased, Tech will also handle all of its own document shredding.

“Presently, Cintas shreds our documents. But once our shredder is in operation, we will begin doing our own document shredding,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, the goal of TTUSI is that Tech will be a leader in sustainability with recycling being just one element.

“The initiative is committed to reducing our carbon footprint and putting Tech on the cutting edge of even newer and more technological sustainability, producing a lot of our own energy that we use,” Tucker said. “After all, we are a premiere engineering school; we have all of the ingredients. All the mind power is here. What we’ve got to do is harness that talent.”

According to Tucker, the initiative has been a success, with positive feedback this far in the semester.

“As a recycling advocate, I am in favor of the idea of Tech being a progressive University that supports sustainability,” said Emilee Gettys, senior nursing student at Tech.

“I am excited that Tech is being proactive and self sufficient and that we are taking our own stride to be green,” said senior nursing student Danielle Miller.

There are recycling containers in the lobby of all academic buildings and dorms. Students can contribute to the initiative by placing their recyclable waste in said containers, according to Tucker.

For large-scale recycling, there is a drop off station at Capitol Quad, Pennebaker Quad and behind Lewis Hall. There is also a drop off at Tech Village that is still owned by the city. However, there are plans to ultimately take that station over as well, according to Tucker.

“It’s the food chain; everybody plays a role in this when you get right down to it,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, this will be a semester of transition from the old way of handling waste to the new way.