Freshly Filtered Fertilizer

Samantha Jolly ’15 is building a bike that will help save the world.

As you know, the Kalamazoo College campus is covered with gardens large and small. But did you know that the College produces some its very own compost to fertilize these gardens? It does. And it intends to produce even more this coming year with help from Jolly’s bike.

Compost Intern Sammy Jolly works toward creating a bicycle
Compost Intern Sammy Jolly with the beginnings of the bike.

Jolly and other Student Compost Interns in the K Recycling Department collect food waste from the Living Learning Houses and elsewhere on campus each week and place it in compost bins located in The Grove behind DeWaters and Trowbridge Residence Halls. Last year’s pilot project turned about 3,000 pounds of food waste into composted soil that helps fertilize garden beds across campus.

Mother nature controls much of the composting process, but Jolly and her fellow interns speed that process by regularly turning  compost in the bins with pitchforks and shovels. They also filter out the final product (dirt, essentially) from the active material by shaking it all through hand-held screens.

Here’s where the world-saving bike comes in. Working from her own design and with help from K Recycling Director Rob Townsend, Jolly is building a stationary bike to help separate the finely composted soil from larger chunks. Instead of a rear wheel, her bike features a cylinder made of chicken wire stretched around old bike wheel rims. A bike chain connects the cylinder, which straddles the legs of an old College bunk bed, to the bike gears.

Students shovel compost into the cylinder, jump on the bike seat, and pedal. The chain turns the cylinder, which churns the compost. A wheelbarrow strategically placed under the cylinder catches the fine freshly filtered fertilizer.

Thereby saving the world. Or at least one small corner of it in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“It′s been really fun trying to find things to recycle and turn into this sifter. It′s like one giant recycling project. I have to build a machine out of recycled parts to help recycle our food waste!” said Jolly.

Top 25!

Rob Townsend stands with two students
“Recycle Rob” Townsend (center) with two student “RecycleManiacs.”

Kalamazoo College placed 24th overall in 2013 RecycleMania, a friendly (and eco-friendly) sustainability competition among colleges and universities that focuses on waste minimization and recycling. More than 600 schools in the United States and Canada participated this year. 2013 was an off-year for K compared to its performances of previous years; nevertheless, it finished in the top 25 in six of the competition′s eight measurement categories.

RecycleMania began in 2001 as a competition between two schools. More schools were invited in the following years. Kalamazoo College joined the fun in 2005 and quickly became a two-time first-place winner in the recycled bottles and cans category. The College won grand champion in 2008 and enjoyed three consecutive top-five overall finishes before 2013.

The K recycling program was started in 1992, with Rob Townsend–a.k.a. “Recycle Rob”–as its beloved leader. Sustainability is one of the pillars of the Kalamazoo College honor code. In 2007, President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Like K, Recyclemania is a small entity that makes a big difference. Calculations for the 2011 Recyclemania  results show the combined efforts of participants that year prevented the release of 127,553 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent to the release of greenhouse gas emissions from 25,000 passenger cars. That′s big!

At K, students can help the earth year round. They can use “The Bat Cave” in the basement of Dewaters Residence Hall. The Bat Cave houses the Resource Exchange Program where students have donated numerous items for reuse.

Bat Cave also is home to HUB (Helping Understand Bikes). HUB students fix and rent bikes. And don′t forget to bring your e-waste (computers, printers, cartridges, cell phones, calculators, etc.) to the Bat Cave. The recycling program is always looking for student workers. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

K Recycling Program Puts Others to Shame

The website has ranked Kalamazoo College #6 on its list of “11 College Recycling Programs That Put All Others To Shame.”

The website cites K for being “a perennial top finisher in Recyclemania,” the national competition for college and university recycling programs, and for a recycling department that “oversees the export of about a ton of food waste a week to a local pig farm, as well as the recycling of calculators, batteries, electric motors, and all other e-waste.”

K’s student run “Bat Cave” also gets a shoutout, as the place where student volunteers answer questions and run the REP Room, or Resource Exchange Program, where they recycle textbooks, mirrors, Christmas lights, pens, lamps, and much more.