Zero Heroes

NMU exceeds EPA guideline during innaugural Zero Waste Challenge

Pictured are three receptacles designated for compost, recycling, and waste for Northern Michigan University's inaugural Zero Waste Challenge. Sustainability Advisory Council at NMU partnered with Marquette County Solid Waste Management during the men's and women's basketball games against Michigan Tech on Jan. 30 at the Barry Events Center. The event resulted in 6 percent of all waste gong to the landfill. (Picture courtesy of Northern Michigan University)

MARQUETTE — There was a challenge both on and off the court during the Northern Michigan University vs. Michigan Tech. University men and women’s home basketball games Jan. 30.

For the first time ever, NMU’s Sustainability Advisory Council partnered with the Marquette County Solid Waste Authority to host a Zero Waste Challenge for all event attendees.

Organizers said the event strove to divert as many items as possible from the landfill.

They all came out winners according to a SAC report — 94 percent of the waste during the game was able to be recycled or composted.

Everyone attending the event received instructions on how to sort their waste by compostable recyclable and waste items.

Seven sorting stations with simple signage were available with two or three student volunteers to assist and answer questions.

Eighty pounds of waste was sorted for the event; 60 pounds of the material was compostable and 15 pounds of the material was considered recyclable, leaving 5 pounds of material to go into the landfill.

The results are better than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard ratio 60 percent compostable material, 30 percent recyclable material — leaving 10 percent for the landfill.

The report said 75 percent of the waste was sorted for composting, 19 percent could be designated for recycling with only 6 percent going to the landfill.

SAC co-chair Sarah Mittlefehldt said the event embodied the spirit of collaboration.

“The challenge would not nave happened without the passion and commitment of students, staff, faculty and our partners and the Marquette County Landfill,” Mittlefehldt said.

Mittlefehldt said NMU SAC has a vision of creating a university atmosphere wherein sustainability becomes a part of campus culture and identity.

Forty-nine student volunteers helped attendees sort the waste into proper containers throughout the games, 100 percent of whom said they learned more about recycling by participating in the process.

The Solid Waste Authority removed all the bagged items, weighed them, then correctly processed them, Mittlefehldt said.

As many organic items as possible were designated for compost, Mittlefehldt said, and will be placed in a compost cell at the waste management location to be processed this spring.

Recyclable items were bailed and shipped out for recycling, and the remaining items went to the landfill.

Mittlefehldt said the success of the challenge proved the feasibility of SAC’s long-term goal of encouraging both the NMU campus community and the greater local area to create less waste and promote a positive impact for the future.

“In a single night, the Zero Waste Challenge demonstrated all of Northern’s core values: community, opportunity, rigor, environment, inclusion, connections and innovation,” Mittlefehldt said.

Revisions and recommendations would be to expand the challenge to other sporting events, include sorting stations in bathroom facilities, include concession preparation area in the recycling process, and possibly expand to a university challenge with Michigan Tech.