Grand opening of Penn State New Kensington's new composting site is Sept. 10

“When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be
”— “Being Green” by Kermit the Frog

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- Like Kermit the Frog, Penn State New Kensington is comfortable being “green.”

With the opening of a new composting site on the first day of the fall semester, the campus continues to improve visibility and availability of our current recycling sustainability efforts. The focus is food choices and waste disposal. The goal is to turn the campus into a living laboratory and give students the skills they need to become sustainability leaders in the community.

The compost site, located in the back of the campus near the water treatment plant, is nourished with pre- and post-consumption food waste from Café 780, the campus' main eatery. To accommodate the campus’ composting quest, minor renovations were made to Café 780, and several new recycling/trash centers were installed.

The grand opening of the site, featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony, is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10. A media team from Penn State University Park will video the event and interview students, faculty and staff on the campus’ sustainability projects. The public is invited to the ceremony.

Expected to mature by spring, the compost mixture will feed the campus’ pollinator garden, trees and flower beds on campus. Erected in the southwest section of the campus, adjacent to the campus' nature trail, the pollinator garden serves as a habitat for native birds, bees, and butterflies. Native plants provide nectar, pollen, larva food and habitat. Pollination and pollinators play a major role in the production of food.

Complementing the “green” physical changes on campus is an educational component of the sustainability project. Composting was introduced to first-year students in August at the New Student Orientation program. It will be the topic of workshops and training seminars during the semester for all undergraduates. Future projects for biology and science classes and the annual Research and Creative Exposition will feature student research on sustainability activities.

The Green team and Science Club, a student organization, developed an awareness campaign to educate the campus community during the early part of the semester. Science Club members served as peer-to-peer educators during common hour for the first two weeks of the semester. The groups developed a flyer to illustrate the differences among waste products. Food that is of composting material, including fruit, vegetables, bread, grains, rice, coffee grounds, tea bags and brown napkins, is deposited in the left bin. Products that can be recycled -- metal cans, glass, plastic, newspapers, and food boats -- are placed in the center bin. Trash that is destined for landfills, such as pizza, fried foods, meat, bones and silverware, is discarded in the in the two bins on the right of the disposal unit.

In addition to the compost site and pollinator garden, sustainability has leaked into the academic curriculum. A new interdisciplinary minor, Sustainability Leadership is being pursued by the campus. Interested students can explore sustainability issues in several courses that have been offered on campus such as “Foundations of Leadership in Sustainability,” a 200-level course taught by Joan Kowalski, senior instructor in engineering and “Introduction to Environmental Philosophy,” taught by Donald Bruckner, associate professor of philosophy.

The “greening” of the campus is done under the auspicious of the Green team and supported by an $11,000 grant from the Sustainable Institute at Penn State. The campus’ sustainability efforts are aligned with the institutes "Living Laboratory” principles, which include: improving human health and happiness through sustainability; educating the campus community, the Penn State community and the local community; expanding current resources and developing new ones; and collaborating with community groups and organizations that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities.

A living laboratory is an ecosystem for learning that enables the unique features of campus grounds, communities, facilities and regional neighborhoods to serve as test beds for the development of innovative solutions to real challenges. The concept, which is becoming widespread among colleges and universities, embraces learning and experimentation in the advancement of sustainability.

Green team members participating in the grant activities include: Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs; Ruth Herstek, administrative support assistant for academic affairs and one of the leaders of the team; Joan Kowalski, senior instructor in engineering; Lauren Blum, assistant to the director of student affairs; Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs; Donald Bruckner, assistant professor of philosophy; Jason Bush, director of business and finance; Bonnie Godfrey, administrative support assistant for business services; Randy Tressler, maintenance supervisor; Amy Rustic, reference librarian; and Deborah Sillman, senior instructor in biology.

The green teams’ projects aren't the first sustainability initiatives at the New Kensington campus. Charged by Chancellor Kevin Snider in 2011 to take specific actions to help the campus operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way, the team has paved the way for the campus to become more environmentally friendly. "Going Green" was implemented with single stream recycling. Working in conjunction with the Westmoreland Cleanways Program, the campus provides a fast, easy and efficient way to recycle without the hassle of sorting recycled materials. Single stream recycling allows end-users to discard plastics, paper, and cans into one container. Green and blue containers are located in high-traffic areas throughout the campus. Dumpsters are located behind the Athletics Center and in the lower parking lot behind the Science and Technology Building.

Three years ago, environmentally friendly water bottle refilling stations were installed in selected locations around campus. The drinking fountains, known as hydration stations, have decreased the use of plastic bottles, and alleviated the amount of trash that winds up in landfills. Last year, the team sponsored a Composting Conference featuring speakers from the institute and other Penn State campuses that shared their experiences in starting and maintaining a composting program.

In conjunction with the sustainability endeavors, a “Backyard Composting Workshop” will run from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 23, in the Conference Center, Room 051. The event is free to the public. Ellen Keefer, a Master Gardener with Westmoreland Cleanways, will offer tips on providing the right environment for composting microbes and turning garden waste into nutrient-rich compost.

Penn State has been the leader in sustainability initiatives among colleges and universities. The University has invested more than $875,000 in collaborative projects intended to improve and expand sustainability efforts across the institution. Established in 2008, the Sustainability Institute promotes and ensures environmentally-safe activity at Penn State. Its initiatives protect and enhance the financial, human, and ecological resources of the University, and the planet.

For information on the composting workshop or to join the campus green team, contact Ruth Herstek at 724-334-6032 or

For more about sustainability at the campus, visit

For more on the Sustainability Institute, visit

For a video of the “Being Green” song, visit's+not+easy+being+green+lyrics&FORM=VIRE2

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Bill Woodard

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Last Updated September 04, 2014