Penn College Contributes to Year-Round Earth Day Observance

Published 04.25.2007

Landscape/Plant Production
Dining Services
School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies News

Pennsylvania College of Technology is involved in a number of cooperative ventures to benefit the environment, ensuring that Earth Day is celebrated more than once a year.

Penn College's Food Services operation, which oversees dining units on the main campus and at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center near Allenwood, is recycling the daily byproducts of hungry patrons ecologically diverting used vegetable oil and tons of kitchen garbage from the waste stream.

The center, home to the college's School of Natural Resources Management, also maintains a tradition of welcoming elementary schoolchildren for an Earth Day visit, putting its nearly 400-acre "living laboratory" to good use in the service of outdoor education.

Food Services has joined forces with Biodiesel Pennsylvania Inc., a biodiesel manufacturing facility in White Deer that converts soybean oil and other used vegetable-based oil into diesel fuel. The company was among those attending an Earth Day Fair on April 23 in the college's Susquehanna Room dining unit.

"Switching to Biodiesel Pennsylvania for our waste-oil removal not only helps the economy, but it is helping a local company to develop an environmentally responsible product," said Linda Sweely, director of Food Services. The department's dining-unit fryers and kitchens create about 385 pounds of waste canola oil each week.

Located near the Earth Science Center, the company is one of only a few such operations in the state. It began production earlier this year and also obtains oil from other restaurants and local farmers.

Biodiesel is made from raw oil in a process called transesterification, by which it is mixed with a catalyst, Sweely explained. The completed fuel is biodegradable and organic, and its costs about the same as diesel. Biodiesel manufactured at the plant is sold to fleets, home-heating-oil companies, state and local agencies, and distributors and retailers. The company even uses it to operate vehicles and generators, she noted, and farmers use biodiesel to run their tractors.

Food Services also has been working since October with the School of Natural Resources Management's ornamental horticulture program, composting waste at the Earth Science Center in an effort to reduce disposal costs for the college and to help the environment.

"We are currently composting food waste from main-campus dining halls. This waste includes coffee grounds and food scraps such as lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and fruits," said Joseph D. Plummer, lab assistant for horticulture. "Since the pilot program began, we have diverted 5,242 pounds of kitchen food waste."

Floral-design labs also are doing their part by contributing trimmings from flower arrangements and centerpieces. Plummer estimated that 75 percent of the waste normally produced now is being used for composting and mulching. The balance primarily is composed of foam, wire, tape and other nonbiodegradable material.

The center's greenhouse waste also is being recycled. Ornamental horticulture students put used soil mixes and small plant material into containers for use in the compost pile.

In addition, students in the Landscape Operations class edge and mulch bed areas and tree rings; all material removed from those areas is used in the composting process. Numerous yards of material are placed into the pile, which is manually (and routinely) turned over and over and allowed to cure into usable compost material. The cured compost later is used as a soil amendment in bed areas and turf, or as top-dressing, Plummer explained.

"How much money is this saving the college in composting materials?" he asked. "The savings in the long term will be beneficial to all of those involved, but the savings in educational enrichment and 'Hknow how' are priceless."

"Educational enrichment" also was the byword on April 24, as the Earth Science Center again welcomed elementary pupils and teachers from the Montgomery Area School District. About 70 visitors traveled from station to station, as forest technology students explained such diverse topics as tree measurement and harvesting to sawmill operation and invasive plants.

"Our annual Earth Day celebration should be an everyday celebration. If we can plant that seed of awareness with these students, then our efforts here will be well-spent," said forestry professor Dennis F. Ringling, who also noted the auxiliary benefit to those doing the teaching. "As our students point out the various environmental concepts with each station, it reinforces the learning principle that, if they know and understand the concept, they should be able to communicate it to another individual."

For more information about Food Services at Penn College, call (570) 327-4767, send e-mail or visit online . More about the School of Natural Resources Management is available by calling (570) 320-8038,via e-mail or on the Web .