Sustainability interns find big savings quickly

Sustainability student interns

Sustainability student interns:  Judi Sclafani '11 and Tyler Koontz '09.

As interns for the Committee on Sustainability (COS), Tyler Koontz '09 and Judi Sclafani '11 spent their summer months researching William & Mary's recycling and waste services. Thanks to that work-and a recommendation by the students-the College will now save $40,000 annually.

COS Summer Internships are an ongoing, competitive grant program supported by funds from the Green Fee that was initiated in the spring of 2008. The grants are intended to afford summer research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students that directly serve the sustainability needs of the College. Koontz and Sclafani were awarded two of the four grants made available in May of 2009 for their proposals to evaluate and improve the College's recycling program.

"As an undergraduate student, to be given the opportunity to conduct meaningful research as part of the College's commitment to sustainability has been exciting, unique, and both personally and professionally rewarding," said Koontz, adding he hopes to see the recycling program continue to grow. "I am confident that the recycling program has the potential to become a model for other universities nationwide."

COS asked the students to focus their research on improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of recycling on campus. Within the first four weeks of the internships, they had found a way to cut recycling expenditures by half. By shifting the recycling pick-up schedules from "on-call," where bins were emptied only when the College notified their recycling vendor, to a regularly scheduled service, Koontz and Sclafani estimated that the College would save around $40,000 each year. They also discovered that the solid waste dumpsters were emptied too often, creating the potential for tens of thousands of dollars in additional savings. Both recommendations were included in a final report issued in August.

Koontz and Sclafani set multiple tasks for themselves at the beginning of their internships, including examining the current recycling and waste practices at the College, exploring programs at other universities, finding new vendors in the region and determining the relationship between the recycling and solid waste programs of the College. Their research highlighted promising new possibilities for improving recycling and lowering costs at William & Mary: the recommended changes made to the recycling contract make recycling cheaper per ton to service than solid waste, creating a needed economic incentive to increase the amount of waste diverted into recycling.

The students were advised and assisted by Sandra Prior, director of environmental health & safety, and Rowan Lockwood, professor of geology and the chair of the COS Programs and Education Subcommittee. Helping the students navigate the intricacies of the recycling and waste programs were Dave Shepard, associate vice president of facilities management, and Bill Sanders, the College's support services supervisor. Shepard was particularly active in Koontz and Sclafani's research, suggesting avenues of inquiry and accepting many recommendations. "Their research points to significant cost savings for the processing of the College's recyclable materials and provides a strong foundation for the growth of the program to achieve more sustainable operations," Shepard said. i