New efforts are being made toward environmental protection and sustainability around Virginia Tech and Southwest Virginia.
The city of Roanoke has installed solar-powered ‘BigBelly Solar’ trash compactors in Roanoke’s Hurt Park region after being awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The new trash receptacles each have a central coordination system that emails waste management workers when the cans are 80 percent full, which saves time and fuel for the city’s waste management system.
The new system has had a great impact on Roanoke, reducing the amount of labor and greenhouse gas emissions used during trash pickup.
After seeing a positive impact from the installation of these new units, the city plans to install new units in other locations around Roanoke.
Virginia Tech’s Office of Energy and Sustainability has also considered installing BigBelly Solar units around campus.
“They’re actually pretty popular on college campuses, and they’ve proven really effective,” campus sustainability planner Angie De Soto said.
De Soto believes that installation would save gas and time for waste management officials around campus.
De Soto also said that the units, which can cost up to $6,000, might be too expensive to install around campus, but implementation could still be possible.
“It’s definitely not out of the question,” De Soto said. “It’s just a question of resources.”
Although the office has not implemented the new solar-powered receptacles, they have been creating new programs to help Tech reduce it’s environmental impact.
Tech was recently recognized by the Princeton Review as one of the country’s most environmentally responsible universities.
The program has created an innovative, interdisciplinary internship program that allows emerging sustainability professionals to gain experience in sustainability before entering the working world.
The interns have created several new programs to improve environmental awareness around campus.
One intern team has been working with Tech’s Athletics department to organize a ‘Green Effect’ football game.
The team is planning to design Green Effect t-shirt to help generate funds for sustainability programs around campus and is also trying to plan a near-zero-waste football game, using knowledge gained from assessments of game day trash and recycling operations.
Tech has also been involved with the “Power Down, Lights Out!” program, an initiative working to reduce the amount of energy consumption from the regional grid during peak hours of the summer, when power suppliers are not able to produce enough electricity to meet the heavy demand.
“We are a huge consumer of electricity,” De Soto said. “They can call on us during peak hours to see if we can drop our energy consumption.”
Tech held a “Power Down, Lights Out!” event last Thursday, encouraging students, faculty, and staff to turn off and unplug all non-essential electric items for one hour. The event’s goal was to reduce electricity usage by 6 megawatts. The office expects that they have exceeded that goal, reducing consumption by around nine megawatts, although the results have not yet been confirmed.
If Tech completes the summer-long program, the university will receive around $200,000 dollars in payment for their energy reduction.
Tech’s sustainability officials have also designed a new online sustainability portal, which will allow Tech students to discover sustainability initiatives to participate in and allow students to post their own ideas and initiatives.
Although Tech has no immediate plans to implement the BigBelly Solar waste system around campus, De Soto expects the programs they’re working on to have a positive impact on energy reduction around campus.
De Soto believes that real sustainability involves not only environmental issues but also social and economic aspects.
“Sustainability is not just environmental,” De Soto said. “Finding the balance between all three of those—the people, the planet, and the economy—that’s where real sustainability is.”