John Brown University's ‘Zero Landfill' Initiative Paying Off

Brian Greuel has been known to go months without emptying the trash can in his office at John Brown University.

Odd as it might seem to outsiders, Greuel, chairman of the Division of Natural & Health Sciences at JBU, is not unique. Faculty, staff and the 2,500 students at the Christian liberal arts college in Siloam Springs have become less dependent on their trash cans since July 2012.

A year ago the school implemented a zero landfill initiative as part of an overall sustainability program. Awareness of what can be recycled and how the program can have far-reaching impact on the school is on the rise.

Of the more than 100 tons of waste produced on campus during the last year, 42 percent of it was recycled. The remaining 58 percent was compacted and hauled to a plant in Tulsa where it was burned and converted into energy. The annual cost of hauling trash has decreased by nearly $35,000 for JBU.

“To be able to participate is exciting,” Greuel said. “We think that’s fantastic.”

Reaction to the zero-landfill proposal has been mostly positive on campus. After a year of the program, support continues to grow, especially as the environmental and economic impacts become better understood.

Recycling bins can be found all over campus. Sorting is done by the maintenance crew, which includes student workers, to make the process as easy as possible for students, faculty, staff and visitors. Not only are paper products and plastics accepted in recycle bins, but aerosol cans and batteries are collected. Computers, stereos and other items classified as “e-waste” also are collected to be recycled.

A year ago, Steve Brankle, director of facility services and sustainability at JBU, built support for the program around projections he calculated and anecdotes he could relay from other schools and businesses.

Now Brankle has data of his own to share. Success stories abound throughout the offices, classrooms and dorm rooms on campus, and JBU has strengthened its reputation as an environmentally conscious institution.

JBU’s initial investment for recycle bins, wagons for pickup and a pair of trash compactors was about $60,000. Thanks to decreased monthly costs associated with waste removal that investment will pay for itself by next July.

“It’s real money,” Brankle said. “I was confident the numbers would work and the administration was willing to give us the money. It worked. It’s a great thing for the school. It’s great to hang our hat on. It saves us money. And it saves the environment. It’s the right thing to do.”

(Also see: Brown Goes Green: Steve Brankle Turns John Brown University Into Arkansas' First Zero-Landfill Campus)

Like-Minded Neighbors

JBU joins four local businesses in the fight to eliminate waste and cut costs. McKee Foods Corp. in nearby Gentry, DaySpring Cards Inc., Gates Corp. and La-Z-Boy Arkansas are also zero-landfill operations.

Companies began to explore the option during a Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce roundtable for business leaders in 2011. City officials explained that rather than hauling trash to a landfill in nearby Tontitown, they could transport it to a plant in Tulsa that used a non-emission incinerator to burn the trash and generate energy.

Siloam Springs proudly touts its status as an environmental leader in the state.

Don Tennison, Siloam Springs’ solid waste superintendent, said the city should and does use the success of JBU and other local businesses as a selling point. He said it should be taken under consideration for companies thinking of relocating or starting in northwest Arkansas.

“It’s a great selling point for the city,” Tennison said. “That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on is that we offer the zero-landfill option to our industries. It’s an option for them and we try to push it. We offer that for anybody that wants to participate.”

Brankle was more than happy to sign on with the city to have waste hauled to Tulsa. He visits other campuses to see what they are doing to promote sustainability and after seeing that JBU was ahead of its peers in many areas, he wanted to find “one big thing” to set the campus apart.

Achieving zero-landfill status was that big thing. But it’s far from the only sustainability project at JBU.

A quick drive through campus reveals solar panels on buildings and traffic signs. Brankle has phased hybrid cars into the school’s 15-vehicle fleet, bringing the average gasoline mileage from 25 miles per gallon to more than 40. Low-flow water fixtures have been installed throughout campus. Public bathrooms are going paperless where possible.

Renovation of J. Alvin Hall, a 93-year-old men’s dorm, is being done with sustainability in mind. The roof will be white to help the building absorb less heat and make it easier to cool. A variable refrigerant flow system for heating and cooling is being installed. VRFs are smaller and more efficient and should ultimately help keep costs down after the initial investment.

Brankle has his sights set on a pilot project to retrofit lighting on campus. He’ll start with one building, gauge the savings and then, if successful, try it elsewhere at JBU.

One day Brankle hopes that clean water generated by a nearby wastewater treatment facility can be used to irrigate campus landscaping. State regulations currently don’t allow that, but Brankle is ready if regulations ever change.

Like the zero-landfill initiative, these projects require an initial investment. Plus, Brankle needs buy-in from administrators, staff, faculty and students. But as the zero-landfill project has proven, it is possible and that initial investment can benefit JBU.

“That’s money that can go to computers for students. It can go to remodeling residence halls, updating classrooms, whatever. But it goes to something that improves campus,” Brankle said. “We’re giving back to the school.

“Not everybody was on board at first,” he added. “But the recycle cops aren’t out there writing tickets. Not everybody does it right now. But hopefully, over time we’ll win them over.”

Greuel is among those on campus glad to help invest in the school’s future. For the professor and many in his division, the buy-in was easy.

“It’s great for the university,” Greuel said. “It makes a difference in terms of our finances and I just admire Steve for his work and vision. It adds work for him, but he manages that and does it well. ... Any way we can support those kinds of efforts, we try to do that.”