By Hannah Hohman
UPPER BURRELL, Pa.—Penn State New Kensington’s Green Team and Science Club have created a “living laboratory” through the implementation of a composting site, and in the fight to create a more sustainable environment, they don’t plan to stop there.
The Penn State New Kensington Green Team is a group compiled of students, faculty, and staff that are committed to getting the campus involved in green initiatives as well as reducing waste and exploring ways to use resources in a responsible manner within the university environment. The Green Team was developed three years ago by Ruth Herstek, administrative support assistant to the director of Academic Affairs. Herstek is a multifaceted woman that has deep connections to the Penn State New Kensington campus. She received her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Penn State New Kensington in 2012 as an adult learner. Herstek has a passion for sustainability. Upon developing the Green Team, she utilized her leadership skills to help pull the team together and continue moving forward with their plans.
Herstek works to maintain these green initiatives at the campus as well as at her Lower Burrell home, which actually borders the campus. Her daughter, Jamie Herstek, is a student at Penn State New
Kensington and a Green Team member. Jamie commented that her mother brings their recyclables to the school because the campus has single stream recycling and Lower Burrell lacks the resources to do so. Herstek discussed her personal philosophy on sustainability and said “I believe that sustainability is exactly what it says, it makes everything sustainable. I believe in its relationships, diversity within people, and diversity within the environment…I would like to see the rural areas of western PA stay that way and in order to sustain that type of lifestyle, you have to take care of the environment so that it can sustain itself. To me, a lot of what we do with sustainability is what nature does naturally.”
The Green Team has done work behind the scenes while pushing for campus involvement. They worked to reduce paper costs, promote green meetings, and reduce the amount of posters and paper signage on campus. Their biggest campaign is raising awareness amongst the campus community. The campus was already very active in their work to be sustainable, there are water bottle refill stations, single stream recycling, and Chancellor Dr. Kevin Snider has included sustainability in the five year strategic plan. All of these were steps that lead up to their ultimate goal which was to implement a composting program.
The composting project has opened doors to the conversation of sustainability and it has even furthered the recycling effort on campus. Herstek commented that they have seen recycling double, if not triple after implementing this program due to the placement of the bins for composting. This goal was attained after the Green Team was awarded an $11,315 grant from the “Reinvention Fund” which is through the Penn State Sustainability Institute. After working to compose a lengthy grant proposal, the New Kensington campus was one of the only commonwealth campuses that was selected.
The grant money was used to redo the counter tops in the café so that there was a receptacle that included composting, recycling, and trash in the most high traffic area of the café. It was also used to move the condiments elsewhere in the café. Three indoor trash and recycling bins and a bin for the outdoor courtyard were purchased, as well as shirts for the Science Club so they can be distinguished as they direct students to the proper disposal of foods. A year supply of composting bags were also purchased with the grant money along with a small amount of lab equipment for the science department. The Green Team has been partnering with the Science Club throughout this process. Annie Ley, president of the Science Club said, “through the use of peer to peer education, our club members have been able to educate the student body about the basics of recycling, reusing, and reducing in a manner that is easy to understand and effective.”
Herstek mentioned that since composting has started, she has noticed a significant increase in the sustainability conversation on the campus. As the Penn State New Kensington community is still learning how to properly dispose of items in the café, Green Team members are still working to create more effective signage that will ease the process. The Green Team’s hope is that there will be continuous growth of this program and that these changes carry on as new waves of students come through.
The Green Team is not stopping at composting; while composting is merely step one, there are many more steps that they intend to make. There is conversation of hoping to partner with WCCC and the campus’s efforts in working with poverty. Herstek believes that they are all able to be connected and work together to make a genuine difference in the community. The Green Team wants to continue to reach out to the community to establish a community garden and continue the education and conversation.