Water Stations, Single-Stream Recycling Boost Sustainability at F&M

  • Nic Auwaerter '11, the Facilities & Operations Department's sustainability coordinator,  fills up at one of the new water bottle filling stations installed throughout campus this summer as part of F&M's Sustainability Master Plan. Reusable water bottles like the one pictured will be distributed to students this fall. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Water bottle filling stations, solar trash compactors and single-stream recycling are among the newest tools for sustainability to arrive on the Franklin & Marshall College campus this fall.

As part of the College's Sustainability Master Plan and overall efforts to reduce solid waste, dining halls and vending machines at F&M no longer will offer bottled water. Instead, the campus community and visitors may fill up at any of the new 22 water filling stations positioned throughout campus.

F&M's Facilities & Operations Department, in coordination with the College's Sustainability Committee, worked throughout the summer to install the filling stations and implement a number of initiatives that are part of the sustainability plan endorsed last fall by faculty, students and College trustees. The plan builds on the institution's conservation and educational efforts of the past decade and creates a roadmap for environmental stewardship for current and future generations, with goals in areas such as water conservation, solid waste reduction and energy efficiency.

"These initiatives reduce the significant impact that we make on the waste stream, and that cannot be understated," said Linda Aleci, a professor of art history and chair of the Sustainability Committee. She noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that it takes 450 years for a plastic water bottle to decompose in the ocean. "We're working strategically and harnessing our energy for some very targeted initiatives, and the campus should look forward to more."

Among the sustainability measures completed during the summer or underway:

  • Water bottle distribution: To reduce overall waste, the College will provide 2,500 durable and reusable, 32-ounce water bottles that are stain and odor resistant and free of BPA -- a compound used to harden plastic -- to all F&M students this month.
  • Bottle reduction: To reduce waste and the volume of materials requiring recycling, the sale of bottled water at campus dining facilities and in vending machines will be discontinued.
  • Water filling stations:  About 22 water filling stations were installed in high-traffic areas such as College Houses, the Steinman College Center, Mayser Gymnasium and academic buildings. The filling stations keep a running tally of how many disposable bottles each refill saves.
  • Single-stream recycling: Recyclable plastics, paper, cardboard, aluminum cans and glass may all be placed in the same containers as the campus converts to single-stream recycling in an effort to increase participation in the program by making recycling easier. The College also will make recycling containers more uniform in appearance, improve signage and add about 50 bins, for a total of 270 campuswide.
  • Solar trash compactors: Two BigBelly Solar trash compactors have been installed, one near Old Main and the other near the Wohlsen Center for Sustainable Environment. The units operate entirely on solar power and transmit messages via a wireless network to the facilities department when they are full.

Nic Auwaerter '11, the Facilities & Operations Department's sustainability coordinator, is charged with analyzing how the College uses resources, and also implementing measures to help the campus conserve water, reduce waste and save energy. He became involved in those efforts as a student worker in the facilities department and as a double major in environmental studies and geology. He also was president of the student-run Environmental Action Alliance.

The solar trash compactors decrease the frequency of trash pickup and encourage the campus community to think more about what they throw away. said Auwaerter, who will work with the Sustainability Committee in coming months to educate the campus community about how these efforts make the College more sustainable.

The water filling stations and reusable bottle distribution, which cost about $65,000, will help to reduce the campus's carbon footprint.

"It takes more water to produce a plastic water bottle than is actually in the bottle itself," he said. "If you fill up at one of our filling stations, you are saving water and the amount of energy it took to make a plastic water bottle.

"It's just as easy to carry your water bottle with you and fill it up than it is to throw it away," he added. "It takes a little more planning, but ultimately it will pay off. It is an easy change people can make that can make a big impact on landfills and water usage."

F&M joins more than 70 other colleges that have taken similar measures to reduce solid waste, according to Corporate Accountability International, Auwaerter said.

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