Integrated Waste Management at The Ohio State University: Economic and Institutional Determinants of Sustainability
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of Natural Resources Honors Theses; 2008
The purpose of this project is to explore potential pathways by which The Ohio State University (OSU) can lessen its ecological footprint by working within the bounds of current economic and institutional constraints. Two tools are central to this analysis: an EcoFlowTM network designed to model the University’s waste management system and a survey instrument used to identify both common challenges and best practices encountered by OSU’s benchmark institutions as they have “greened” their campuses. EcoFlowTM provides a method by which both economic and ecological impacts for systems may be compared in numerical terms. Iterative calculations allow for the program to optimize the waste streams included in the model so that either cost or ecological impact is minimized. The material flow of greatest interest in this case is that of organic wastes, which are currently treated as mixed solid waste and sent to a landfill, but have the potential to be treated as commodities and greatly reduce the environmental impact of OSU’s waste. The survey instrument was distributed to solid waste managers responsible for recycling and other waste diversion programs at Ohio State’s benchmark institutions. Because the tasks of waste management and, more broadly, institutional change are particularly challenging at institutions with large geographic areas and student populations, this respondent group was selected in order to identify trends and methods most likely to benefit this university. Results suggest that although organic waste diversion to an anaerobic digestion facility would not reduce waste management costs, at least in the short run, it would allow for a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to OSU’s waste generation, potentially equaling 3,102.54 MTCO2E metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) annually. In addition, by recycling, Ohio State saves 3,550.53 MTCO2E annually. Improving recycling rates on campus could contribute significantly to reducing the University’s GHG emissions using a readily available and operational system. Survey responses suggest that consideration should be given to the following characteristics: dissatisfaction with the status quo; financial constraints; student engagement; administrative support; stakeholder collaboration; clear statement of and commitment to sustainability objectives; and energy conservation as a priority.
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