Homewood, Sweet Homewood

Further to his article in the December CIWM Journal, here we bring you the full case study by Jeff Cooper on his visit to Johns Hopkins University – achieving excellent results in waste reduction and recycling –  part of the programme of the latest ISWA Congress in Baltimore, USA

A small group from the Congress were able to go to the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University (JHU), which prides itself as being the first research university in the USA. The Homewood campus covers 140 acres in a leafy suburban setting in the City of Baltimore. It has nine campus sites in the Baltimore and Metro DC area plus others in Hong Kong and Bologna, Italy.

The total floor area of the University’s buildings in the Baltimore and Metro DC area is currently 14.5M ft2, up from the 13M in 2006 when the President of John Hopkins, Ron Daniels set up a task force to develop an Action Plan on Sustainability for the University.  After consultation, the President had set a target of reducing the University’s environmental impact, measured by greenhouse gas emissions, by 25% by 2025 against a baseline of the 2008 floor area. At that time, following the global financial crisis the University had expected that its floor area would only increase by 0.5M ft2 by 2025.  This much greater floor-space area therefore makes achieving the environmental target extremely challenging.

The tour was guided by the University’s Sustainability Manager, Ashley Pennington and the Homewood campus’s waste manager, Leana Houser. Leana started her work at Johns Hopkins 5 years’ ago. The previous manager had provided a good basis by arranging advantageous contracts for the recovered waste materials for the system that was then operating. Leana came in and focussed on behavioural and attitudinal changes to ensure greater engagement with the JHU policies and practices to encourage source separation by Johns Hopkins’ staff and students, particularly the facility servicing staff, who are key to ensuring that recovered material is suitable and goes where required and for providing feedback on those parts of the buildings where performance improvements need to be made.

The tour started in one of the many student accommodation blocks.  All the University’s first and second year students can be housed through Johns Hopkins’ own accommodation blocks. In the accommodation facilities there are multiple sets of three recycling containers, comprising: a green coloured mixed dry waste recycling container, a yellow compostables container and dark grey one for residual waste labelled “incineration”. The last is in clear recognition that the residual waste from Johns Hopkins, together with the residual MSW from the City of Baltimore, goes 4 miles to Baltimore’s energy recovery plant.  All three containers are clearly labelled with information as to what was allowed plus a couple of pointers to items not permitted, based on the experience of analyses of container contents and common mistakes by users.

At strategic points there were three blue stacked containers for batteries, old small electronic equipment plus used toothpaste containers. The batteries are dealt with through Leana’s office and returned through an industry product stewardship initiative arranged through the JHU WEEE contractor, while the other waste streams go off to the local TerraCycle plant. The toothpaste tubes are being used, together with other less recyclable plastics wastes, to manufacture plastic lumber products.

There are a considerable number of hospitality events held on most of the campus sites and a considerable effort has been made to try to maximise the recovery of material from these events. This is mainly through the adoption of simple and easy segregation into the standard three waste streams. Therefore to encourage event planners and caterers to move over to this system the University now offers free collection of waste from event premises that conform with its environmental requirements, thus improving the position from three years ago when there was a 50% rebate.

This segregation is helped mainly by having compostable plates and cutlery, which is also standard practice throughout the canteens serviced by the University’s in-house catering company. There is now also an emphasis on improving the quality of the food consumed by the students through student counsellors promoting better eating options at the start of the term and through other periodic campaigns, including those that focus on the issue of food waste.

Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is generated in huge amounts in the University and is collected and bulked up to be delivered to a City of Baltimore drop-off facility and from there hauled a short distance just across the state line to the Dent Plastics site in Pennsylvania to be compacted and then shipped to a company in Japan where it is extruded into items such as picture frames. In those few places where a considerable amount of scrap paper is generated blue containers are provided, the use of which pre-dates the current 3 stream separation system.

The University has recently started retro-fitting its buildings with solar panels.  The 9 buildings equipped with solar panels have a total of 2900 panels and these include 2 multi-storey car parks with solar panel canopies.  Altogether the sites can produce in excess of 1M Kwh of electricity each year. The finance package was provided through Eastlight Ventures and the local power utility company Hecate Energy provided and maintains the panels and takes the electricity generated. The University has also provided more than 100 water bottle filling stations in order to cut down on the use of single use plastic water bottles.

The bags from the building containers are removed by the building facilities staff and collected by the three staff dedicated to the waste management function, who work shifts from 10 PM Sunday through to Saturday morning. They use three small vehicles to take the bags to a waste collection site at the edge of the Homewood Campus where the wastes are emptied into two compactors for compostable waste and the mixed waste emptied into a large roll-on-off containers. There are also two compactors on the site: one compacting cardboard into bales and the other compacting mixed papers into a demountable container.

The bags of compostable waste are placed directly into an open-topped container. The compost material is hauled 40 miles to an Upper Marlborough composting site to be processed. However, the compostable cutlery and other PLA items require an extra composting cycle because it is rejected when screening takes place at the end of the first cycle.

As a result of these initiatives the recycling rate for the last few years has increased from 26% in 2013 to 44% in 2016 at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus site.


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