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April 23, 2010

ULM transforms maroon and gold to all “green” on Earth Day, and every day

It’s fairly simple, and quite messy, but Physical Plant Assistant Director Greg Smith is more than happy to do his part to save the Earth – one oily gallon at a time.
“To me it's not so much about the savings in dollars, as it is being able to take a waste product and turn it into something useful,” he said, standing near a vat of cooking oil that will soon be converted to biodiesel fuel.

“Although we do see some savings,” he said, with a smile.

The fuel is used to run the diesel tractors, mowers and other equipment that keeps the grounds groomed at the University of Louisiana at Monroe year round. It’s one of several ongoing “green” efforts in which ULM participates to reduce waste, raise environmental awareness and save money.

Smith’s efforts and the efforts of other student and faculty groups were on full display April 22, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Smith said the university purchased a converter about two years ago to cut back on fuel costs. About 50 gallons of used cooking oil is taken to the physical plant each week now, instead of simply throwing it out as waste.

“The food service crews take the waste vegetable oil from the fryer vats, pre-filters it, then pours it into 55 gallon barrels. When the barrels are full, I transfer the oil into holding tanks inside the physical plant compound,” said Smith.

When the oil has settled in the tanks for a few weeks, he siphons it from the top as the solids are drained from the bottom. The settled oil is used in two ways, either to mix with petro diesel or to process into biodiesel. Both can be run in diesel engines without any modifications to the engines.

And, about those savings?

“In an average year, we can consume 1500 to 2000 gallons of diesel fuel just on maintenance equipment,” said Smith. “Last year I substituted about 500 gallons of the fuel with biodiesel. This year I hope to double that figure … Biodiesel costs less than $1 per gallon to make. It has helped and beats doing nothing.”

Not only does ULM’s Aramark facility turn its cooking oil over to the physical plant for recycling, it was recently named the number one minimizer of waste in the nation for five out of six weeks.

In the “Recycle Mania” competition, schools offering Aramark food services see which college or university produces the least amount of municipal solid waste (including both recyclables and trash) per person, and ULM earned that proud distinction, outranking schools in areas known for being “environmentally friendly,” including Santa Monica College and Pasadena City College, both in California.

Eddie Rushing, assistant food service director, said that ULM’s Aramark also recycles cardboard, paper, used coffee grounds for flowerbeds and gardens, and purchases recycle office products.

Students gravitated toward several other booths celebrating Earth Day in Scott Plaza.

Karen Niemla, reference librarian, distributed information about responsible printing and even took suggestions from visiting elementary students in her “Green Ideas” jar.

“If you see a page in the file you don’t want, set a page range to only print what you need,” she said, standing next to a stack of wasted pages someone had printed from online material and left in the library.

“This is a change you can make right away and immediately see some savings. It really does make a different when you replace your toner cartridge a lot less.”

Her other suggestions included using the reduced ink setting on printers, using smaller fonts and reducing margins to get as much text as possible on a page and choosing backgrounds that don’t use as much ink when preparing PowerPoint files.

Dr. Kevin Baer and other members of the Department of Toxicology distributed information about using food scraps and other organic waste to create compost piles and about watering lawns thoroughly only once a week, rather than lightly every day. The Louisiana Department of Environment Quality was even on hand to answer questions and provide handouts.

Several feet away William Davis, resident director of Masur Hall, handed out Consumer Action Handbooks from the federal government chock full of eco-friendly tips and suggestions. The government also provided marigold seeds and even “environmental rap” compact discs about environmental hazards.

Williams, standing near a table draped with an image of Mother Earth, said he originally gathered material from the Environmental Protection Agency for a celebration he coordinated at Masur Hall last year. This year, he was invited to bring his ideas and his handouts to the Earth Day celebrations at Scott Plaza to hopefully reach even more people.

“It’s been a good day,” said Williams. “I’ve had over 200 visitors so far.”

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