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Greening Your Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and while we love the idea of sleeping in, spending time with family, and enjoying a few (or twenty) holiday cookies, the season is also ripe with waste.  According to the Centers for Disease Control “Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.”  Yikes!!  The good news is that there are a ton of great ideas and resources out there for making your holidays a little bit more green.  Here are some of our favorite suggestions!

Cut Down Your Food Waste

The holidays are a time filled with abundance, which frequently means that we prepare more food than we can actually eat, and/or we eat way more than we actually need.  While it’s understandable to want to indulge in the delights of the season, keep in mind that avoiding food waste will save you money and at the same time help the planet!  According to Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, “up to 35% of food in high-income economies is thrown out by consumers” (2017, 43).  Consider reducing the amount of food you make in the first place, but if you do have leftovers, get creative!  Can you make a turkey and wild rice soup with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey?  Would those potatoes be tasty on a Shepard’s Pie?  Be prepared to properly store leftover food in advance too–lots of foods freeze really well, and consider how great it would be to dig that Thanksgiving meal out of the freezer come late January!  In the event that you do have food waste, consider either backyard composting or organics recycling.  For more tips on food preparation and preservation in order to reduce food waste, check out Save the Food.

Source Your Food Locally

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An assortment of beautiful, Minnesota-grown produce.

We’re privileged here in Minnesota to have a lot of amazing farmer’s markets as well as local options for sourcing sustainable foods, and while you may think that the arrival of cold weather means those options are off the table, think again!  Throughout the state there are Winter Farmers Markets, as well as opportunities to source directly from farmers.  The food miles that our turkeys, potatoes, and cranberries travel to get to our dinner table add up, as does their carbon footprint.  Locally sourced products from smaller scale farmers not only are frequently more sustainably raised/grown, but they also help to boost our local economy.  Looking to skip the turkey altogether this year and opt for a more plant based diet?  Thanks to Herbivorous Butcher, there are even local options for plant-based meat alternatives!  For more information on where to find local turkeys, wine, veggies, and more, check out Minnesota Grown.

Rethink Your Purchases (and Green Your Black Friday!)

According to the National Retail Federation, 165.3 million US consumers are expected to shop either online or in-store over the coming Thanksgiving weekend.  While we know that the deals are sometimes seemingly too good to pass up, the unfortunate reality is that our high levels of consumption are also leading to higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions.  All of those televisions, iPhones, plastic toys, and clothes are embedded with materials that can be costly to our climate as well as environmentally burdensome to the communities producing them (externalized costs).  Instead of buying more things that you (or your family and friends) don’t actually need, consider these alternative gift-giving ideas:

Homemade Gifts: Breads, teas, hand-sewn clothes, canned goods, and upcycled items are thoughtful and sustainable alternatives – who doesn’t enjoy a gift made with love?

Experience Gifts: Buy your family members tickets to a movie, passes to go ice skating, or even a gift certificate for a massage.  Not only will they appreciate the lack of waste, you’ll also potentially be contributing to their wellness!

Buy Secondhand: While it may not be for everyone, previously loved items frequently still have a lot of life left in them and are less expensive then their newer cousins.  Worried your family won’t like that it’s used?  Just call it “vintage.”

Give an IOU ____________ Coupon: While things can be nice, who wouldn’t LOVE to come home to a clean house, be able to call upon a babysitter, or have help in their garden?  Give the gift of your time and energy in the form of a coupon for something your friends and family will truly appreciate.

Support a Cause: Consider donating a small amount to an organization that’s meaningful to the gift recipient.  Not only do you avoid producing waste, you’re supporting an awesome cause!

Buy Local: If you are going to buy something new, can you find it in a local store?  You’ll be supporting the local economy while also reducing the carbon footprint of shipping directly to your house.

Wrap Smarter

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Map Wrapping is a super fun and cheap way to make your gifts stand out!

The aisles of Target are filled with adorable llama and RV-print wrapping paper, and while it may be tempting to snatch up the newest and cutest ones, keep in mind that they will likely be admired for all of 15 seconds before the excited recipients open their presents.  Consider saving money and cutting down waste by wrapping with items around your house.  Have an old map collection that you don’t mind parting with?  Maps make for awesome wrapping paper!  Done with the Sunday paper?  Cover your gifts with the funnies!  Have some old towels or handkerchiefs on hand?  Try out Furoshiki, the Japanese Art of Fabric Wrapping.  Finally, if you’re a die hard ribbon user, keep in mind that cloth ribbon can be used over and over again – after the unwrapping madness is over, collect your ribbons for reuse next year!

Traveling? Buy Carbon Offsets

Flying is unfortunately a huge source of our carbon emissions both in the U.S. and worldwide, and while driving is better, if you’re using petroleum you’re still emitting greenhouse gases.  One smart option might be to forego a trip altogether, but if your family is far away (as mine is), the holidays might be one of the only chances you have to see them.  While carbon offsets aren’t a perfect solution, they are one way to at least account for your emissions.  Interested in offsetting?  Check out this article from the New York Times on How to Buy Carbon Offsets.

Whether you choose to use natural decorations instead of plastic ones (remember: plastics are nearly always petroleum based, and therefore also have a high carbon footprint!), to make your holiday meals entirely plant-based, to stay home instead of traveling, or to wrap your gifts in magazine covers, keep in mind that your actions do have a collective impact, and your family and friends will notice!  After I asked for a sustainable bridal shower last year, my family chose to stop using plastic water bottles at family events and to instead buy reusable containers and cups.  It may not seem like you, as one person, can make a difference, but you can!  Happy Holidays to all, and may your days be merry and green!

Bike Week

How do you get to school or work?  Do you drive, walk, take public transit, bike, or canoe (we really hope you canoe)?  For residents in the north metro, and for much of the rest of the Twin Cities, the answer is that you drive.  You may commute 30 minutes or more one way, and sit in traffic for half of that.  Once you make it to your destination, you likely have to fight for a parking spot (in the case of the Coon Rapids campus of ARCC, this hunt is akin to the tributes’ fight over resources at the Cornucopia in the Hunger Games.  Rest assured, it will go well for basically no one). What if there was a way to commute peacefully while also getting exercise, spending time outdoors, and allowing you to score a front row parking spot once you arrive?  There is!

 

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Faculty and staff participating in the Faculty/Staff Happy Hour Ride to Coon Rapids Dam and Alloy Brewing. 

In September the Sustainability Committee hosted our first “Bike Week” on the Coon Rapids campus.  The week’s events included a Student Lunch Ride to Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, a Park & Ride event, an academic talk, and a Faculty/Staff Ride.

For many students, staff and faculty at ARCC bike commuting all the way from their homes may seem like a daunting task.  One faculty member who has occasionally commuted by bike from St. Paul said she is faced with a 44 mile round trip ride, or just under 2 hours in each direction.  The time alone is something that most of our community doesn’t feel they have to offer, and that’s not to mention the physical exhaustion association with biking that far.  What’s an eco-enthusiast to do?

The Park & Ride event was designed as a solution to that problem.  Participants met at various Metro Transit Park & Ride locations throughout the Twin Cities and rode in together to ARCC, dramatically shortening their bike commutes but still allowing them to receive the benefits of it.  The Park & Ride strategy turned the St. Paul faculty member’s 44 mile round trip ride into an 18.6 mile one, and most of that was through beautiful trails along the Mississippi River.

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Front row parking spots are available to bikers!

Choosing the right gear can make your bike commute a much more enjoyable experience.  Beyond the bike, you’ll also want a water bottle cage and water bottle, front and real tail lights in case you find yourself biking at night (thanks to Pioneer Cycle, some of our students were the recipients of brand new water bottles and tail lights for their rides!), and a sturdy lock (we recommend a U-lock).  Another smart investment is a pannier bag, which allows you to carry a change of clothes, a repair kit, a snack, and anything else you might need along the ride or once reaching your destination.  Pannier bags can be attached and removed easily from a rear rack and come in a variety of styles.  While they will cost a little up front, think of all of the money you’re saving on gas!  Finally, front and rear fenders can help to keep you from getting the dreaded “stripe” up your back (see below).  If you do find yourself with the dreaded “stripe,” remember that ARCC has showers available in the Health and Wellness Center, as well as a brand new bike repair station by the bike racks for any repair needs.

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The dreaded “stripe,” a.k.a. the sign of a dedicated biker!

In case you need more incentive to try biking, there are enormous environmental benefits from pedaling on two wheels.  Check out this sampling of statistics from PeopleforBikes:

“If 20% of short car trips were replaced by bicycle trips in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, it would prevent 57,405 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, a value of $1.2 million.
Grabow, M., et al., 2010  – Valuing Bicycling’s Economic and Health Impacts in Wisconsin, January 2010

There are 800 million car parking spaces in the U.S., totaling 160 billion square feet of concrete and asphalt. The environmental impact of all car parking spaces adds 10 percent to the CO2 emissions of the average automobile.
Chester, M., et al., 2010  – Parking infrastructure: energy, emissions, and automobile life-cycle environmental accounting, Environmental Research Letters, 5

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Participants returning from the Student Lunch Ride to Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. 

A NASA analysis found that motor vehicles are the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming because they release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.
NASA, 2010  – Road Transportation Emerges as Key Driver of Warming

Bicycle traffic in Copenhagen prevents 90,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually.
City of Copenhagen, 2010  – Bicycle Account, 2010

Ready to pedal off into the sunset (or at least to class)?  We are too!  Look out for our forthcoming Transit Survey, which will help us to understand current commuting habits and to gauge what barriers ARCC community members have to biking to campus.  Happy Biking!

 

The Costs of Copious Copying

Think back to your last “first day of class.”  You might have walked in, sat down, and been handed apaper syllabus 6-8 pages long (or more!  Professors can be long-winded!).  How often did you look back upon that syllabus over the course of the semester?

Professors, of course, hope that the answer is every single day, but in truth it was probably a couple of times throughout the semester.  What happened to that syllabus after the class ended?  Did you throw it away?  Did you recycle it?  Is it still stuffed somewhere in a folder, tucked into the back of the drawer, forgotten for the next twenty years (that’s where mine are…)?

Last year at Anoka-Ramsey the Sustainability Committee was contacted by our campus’s Central Services, who handles the printing for the college, to see if we could assist them in encouraging faculty to reduce their printing amounts.  Like everything it seems, the cost of printing was increasing, and if printing continued at the current rates there was a risk that departments might greatly exceed their printing budgets for the year (and this doesn’t even touch on the environmental costs of using so much paper).  The Sustainability Committee, led by Math Professor Christina Sonnek, decided to challenge departments to reduce their printing, and the results were somewhat staggering.  Compared to the same month the previous year, faculty managed to save 52,844 sheets of paper in August 2017 and 101,811 sheets of paper in September 2017, for a grand total of 154,655 sheets of paper saved!  If that wasn’t enough, the financial savings amounted to a massive $12,210.17!

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A lot of paper frequently equates to a lot of money wasted.

How did they do it?  Some departments did choose to go entirely “paperless,” putting course documents on D2L Brightspace and other websites, but it’s important to remember that even small actions can have a huge impact.  The next time you need to print, consider:

  1. Can you put it online instead (quizzes, exams, notes, etc.)?
  2. If it needs to be printed, can you put it online and have students print it (eliminating the “extra” copies)?
  3. Set your default page margins to small (this uses 14% less paper!)
  4. Print double-sided–make this your default setting (Google how to do this or ask your friendly IT person)
  5. Change your line spacing to “Exactly,” and your spacing to 0 pt. when creating documents on Microsoft Word
  6. Can you have students turn it in online instead (via the Assignments folder in D2L Brightspace or turnitin.com, etc.)?
  7. If you need to write something down, can you use scrap paper instead?
  8.  If you need to print something small out, can you put it on a half sheet of paper instead?  Central Services even has a handy-dandy cutting service!   

Don’t forget, once it’s been printed, used, and is ready for disposal, RECYCLE it!  Even small actions can make a BIG difference!

Organics Recycling, One Year Later

Greening our waste disposal on campus

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On Monday, May 1st, 2017, the Coon Rapids Campus of Anoka-Ramsey Community College instituted a brand new Organics Recycling program, with assistance from Anoka County, MN Waste Wise Foundation, the ARCC Facilities Department, and Lancer Catering.  Organics bins were placed in the cafeteria, all restrooms, the Student Center and the science labs, and Lancer Catering switched to using compostable service ware in the cafeteria and coffee shop.

In order to help educate students, faculty, and staff on the new system, volunteers served as “Recycling Gurus,” standing guard by the trash cans in the cafeteria and helping diners to properly dispose of their waste.
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(Students and Sustainability Club Members Skye Rygh (left) and Margo Fletcher (right) serve as Recycling Gurus during the first week of the Organics Program’s implementation)

 

Although the Sustainability Committee encountered some hurdles along the way in making organics collection a reality on campus, the program has proven to be a success.  The Facilities Department has had to increase the frequency of organics recycling pick-up by our organics hauler, Republic Recycling, by one day per week, while at the same time decreasing landfill (trash) pick-up to three times a week from the previous five day a week pick up.  It is estimated that we are currently diverting 52,800 pounds of compostable material every year, which is equivalent to roughly four African bush elephants in weight!  An added but unexpected benefit of this program has been increased regular recycling as well, where pick up has had to been increased from once to three times per week.

We’re enormously pleased with the progress made by our institution and continue to work to ensure proper waste disposal on campus.  Want to know more about the benefits of organics recycling and how to do it properly?  Check out this link!