Advancing Solid Waste Management in the Town of Geneva
More than two years after receiving a Sustainable Materials Management Plan from the “Sustainable Community Development (SCD) Capstone” class, Geneva Town Supervisor Mark Venuti says that progress has been made on multiple fronts to implement the students’ suggestions from spring 2016. “Their plan has been a good blueprint for us,” he says.
Facilitated by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Chair of Sustainable Community Development Robin A. Lewis and Former Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Sustainability Director Tarah H. Rowse, the community-based research project took the students out of the classroom and into the Geneva community, where they interviewed town residents, visited the town station, and researched best practices in the areas of landfill and recycling, organic wastes, and household hazardous waste and electronic waste.
“The collaboration with Geneva is one of a series of projects we’ve done in the SCD capstone course in the past few years,” says Lewis. “In each instance, we have 14 to 16 students and two faculty members hive-minding on ideas, doing research and providing municipalities with reports they can use to get funding.”
The class met initially with Venuti and his team to flesh out issues that the town wanted to address. One of the most urgent was preparing for the 2028 closing of the regional landfill. “We’re trying to persuade people to divert more of their waste [from the landfill] by reusing, recycling and composting,” says Venuti. “When 2028 rolls around, we don’t want to be throwing away very much trash.”
The students’ 56-page final report offered suggestions, ranging from implementing clearer signage at the transfer station to incorporating lessons on recycling into school curricula. One area they addressed was organic waste. “Food waste is a big part of what goes into a landfill,” says Venuti, who notes that 20-25 percent of a landfill’s contents can be organically composted.
At the students’ suggestion, the town began a backyard composting program to divert that organic waste from local landfills. Composting kits, subsidized by the town, were distributed to residents, who have the option to compost food waste in their own backyards and/or to bring it to special bins at the transfer station, where it is bulk-composted.
Another student suggestion was the implementation of a fix-it clinic, where residents could bring broken appliances, furniture and other items to the transfer station where volunteer help residents repair these items, keeping those items out of the landfill. “We call them repair cafes, and we do two a year now,” says Venuti. “They’ve been very successful—people love them.”
“There has been a tremendous amount of landfill diversion,” says Jacob Fox ’16, who is a sustainability consultant for the town. “Since the SCD project, we have also diverted more than 60 mattresses, 20 pallets of e-waste, over 100 tons of construction and demolition debris collection, extensive metal recycling, yard waste drop-off and donated a large trailer full of items.”
The impact of this capstone project will continue to be felt in the years ahead as Venuti and his team continue to implement the class’ recommendations, but the SCD students themselves also continue to reap benefits from their involvement in the project.
Emily Ott ’17, who was on the organic waste team during the spring 2016 class, sees multiple ways in which her professional life has been enriched by her participation in the SCD Program. “There were a lot of lessons through the group dynamics that have been important to carry on in my career,” says Ott, who works as a supply chain professional with Unilever in the Shelton, Conn. office.
She credits Lewis with helping her to improve her communication and writing skills. “Until you do the work of communicating and defending your ideas effectively, it is a very hard skill to learn.”