Each year the Innovation Fund awards $50,000 to support a sustainability-related initiative on campus. The Fund is an incredible opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to collaborate and create impactful solutions right here at IU. Last year’s winning proposal will have a tremendous impact on campus, repurposing waste in a way that better utilizes natural and fiscal resources alike.
Mike Girvin has worked for IU Landscape Services for 13 years, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that the campus faced a mighty challenge: managing unfathomable amounts of organic waste every year.
Last year, Girvin teamed up with Dr. Jon Eldon, professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, to develop a solution. Partnering with Shawn Naylor from Indiana Geological and Water Survey, as well as SPEA/O’Neill students Tristan Voge and Nestor Ruizvelasco, they developed a proposal for a new campus composting facility that will create a “closed-loop” system. In other words, rather than disposing of all of the landscaping waste each year, Girvin’s team will be able to turn the waste into compost that can be reused as fertilizer, across the grounds and on the campus farm.
Girvin and Eldon secured their funding from the Innovation Fund, a $50,000 grant opportunity to support sustainability initiatives on campus. Applications for the 2019-2020 award are open now, and a brief letter of interest is due on November 18 at 5 pm.
In their 2018 proposal to the Fund, Girvin and Eldon explained the immensity of the problem:
“Each year the staff must collect, transport, and dispose of approximately 2000 tons of woody material, 1000 tons of leaves, 500 tons of wood chip, and 200 tons each of grass clippings, weeds, and flowering plants. In all, the flower beds, lawns, woodlots, and other natural spaces that make the IU Bloomington campus one of the most attractive universities in the country also generate nearly 4500 tons of organic waste that must be removed to maintain the expected appearance.”
The university faces a double expense with all of this waste: the cost of collection and disposal as well as the cost of new soil and fertilizers in the attempt to replace lost nutrients.
According to Girvin, the current timeline for processing compost on-campus is three years. Moreover, they have not been able to use compost everywhere on campus in the past. Therefore, they need to accelerate up the process, Girvin said, bringing in new methods to break down the compost through agitation as well as exposure to the right temperature and amount of moisture. This requires both new machinery as well as the “perfect recipe,” which is currently under development by one of Eldon’s intern. In addition to greater efficiency, Girvin’s long-term goal of the project is to reduce/eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers across the grounds, in support of the Sustain IU 2020 Vision.
Girvin is hoping to start processing compost this fall, but believes it will be next summer before “things are where we want them to be.” For now, he says the main thing standing in their way is time, as they wait for new equipment to arrive in the next few weeks.
Girvin’s advice for future Innovation Fund applicants?
- Pick your partner wisely––Girvin found a great complement in Dr. Eldon, who was able to take the problem that Girvin identified and develop the case for a proper solution.
- Be thorough in the face of competition: “you want to have your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted, and have verifiable facts that you present”.
Reflecting on the project, Girvin talked about how much he has enjoyed including students in the process, that working with them “brings a new element to my job.”
“I feel like I have Google at my fingertips,” he said in admiration.
Do you see a way to improve IU’s sustainability? Apply to the Innovation Fund and turn your ideas into tangible solutions. Initial letters of interest are due November 18th.
Questions? Email email@example.com.