Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Permaculture and Zero Waste Tackle Student Trash

By Katie Attinello

On April 4, the Thursday evening lecture series hosted by the Ramapo College Masters in Sustainability Studies Program welcomed Shabazz Jackson and Josephine Papagni of Greenway Environmental Services. The program they presented was titled “Zero Waste: A Permaculture Perspective on Waste Management.”

Greenway, based out of Poughkeepsie, NY, has centered on a zero-waste philosophy since its creation in 1996. The company collects and transports waste suitable for recycling and processes it into reusable, high-quality compost. The system of permaculture utilized by Greenway Services costs about half as much as a landfill, and can be replicated for around $50,000 for any new, interested companies.

Greenway currently operates as one of the area’s largest topsoil and mulch providers. Urban planning projects and institutions like Marist College (which owes its excellent common green to Greenway) have utilized the company’s products and services. Another soil they provide was used to plant trees in road medians, due to its ability to restrict root growth from damaging pavement over time.

While a portion of Greenway’s involvement in higher education is through this type of sustainable business, they’ve also had a hand in altering the mindset and design of the university waste management system. When Jackson decided to expand the community-setting success he’d had with zero-waste management, he “knew we had to start with the colleges.”

After tallying the waste output from nearby Vassar College, Jackson found that their small student body was producing nearly as much as a town of several thousand residents. In an attempt to demonstrate how colleges can be serious about environmental consciousness while still making a profit (and even saving money), Greenway paired with Vassar's vegetarian housing for a trial recycling program. They then moved on to help the school’s dining services to alter the way they discard their scraps and recyclables.

Not only did Greenway help to reduce Vassar’s overall ecological footprint, but also raised student awareness and desire to be involved. Students at Vassar helped to create a man-made wetlands area, which mimics the natural wetlands’ ability to filter toxins and impurities from collected water.

Jackson and Papagni have also contributed to the sustainability movement through Gardening for Life, encouraging both urban and suburban youth to learn the power of sustainability through horticulture. Their work with schools and youth rehabilitation programs has been very successful. Projects have included allowing young adults to create a community space and children to tend a dome garden in their school’s courtyard.

In the future, the Greenway team hopes to provide more resources and services to the private homeowner who wishes to begin an efficient composting system in their own backyards.

Jackson and Papagni have high hopes for the power of permaculture over the landfill. Their success with Greenway and Vassar College makes a strong argument, both financially and ecologically, in favor of zero-waste sustainable alternatives on a larger scale. Jackson hopes to see a zero-waste system implemented at Ramapo College, noting that his preliminary research showed available space on campus for its creation.

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