Color Me Green? HCC and the Environment

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Published on November 10, 2014

Candy bar wrappers, a crushed soda can, and a glass Starbucks Frappuccino bottle float on a bed of crumpled paper. This motley spread of garbage is commonplace in the bins that line the hallways at HCC. The white recycling logos stamped on them might as well be an afterthought.

For Hamish Lutris, former advisor of the Friends of the Environment Club and history professor at HCC, the college has a ways to go with its concern for the environment.

“In essence, we’ve been knuckle-dragging for a long time.” Lutris says.  “We’re in the dinosaur period compared to other colleges.”

It is becoming harder to deny climate change and the increasing evidence of the environmental plight, our world is damaged, our resources are limited, and things are not getting better. How does HCC stack up?

In 2006 a club known as the Friends of the Environment (FOE) was active at HCC.

When FOE was active they encouraged HCC to adopt more sustainable practices. For example, former advisor Lutris says they attempted to get the cafeteria to stop using styrofoam. Styrofoam is non-renewable and doesn’t biodegrade.

Also, there is some evidence that styrofoam may be as harmful to people as it is to the planet; the EPA suggests on their webpage that these polystyrene plastics may be carcinogenic. The USDA adds that these plastics may leach chemicals into the food or drink that they hold. Yet despite these facts cafeteria workers and administrators continually brushed it off and no feasible alternatives were ever considered.

The FOE students didn’t stop there. On an administrative level they appealed to former president Anita Gliniecki to sign the President’s Commitment on Climate Control.

When a college signs the commitment one of the agreements is taking short term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their campus operations. Four local community colleges: Manchester, Middlesex, Norwalk,and Quinebaug have signed it and adopted more environmentally friendly practices. Unfortunately HCC doesn’t rank among them; Lutris says Gliniecki didn’t sign.

Additionally, FOE attempted to bring a greater awareness of recycling to campus. Despite their efforts, it never quite took off. To this day participation is shaky, at best, and much of the HCC population appears to be uninformed. HCC Director of Facilities Richard Hennessey says a year and a half ago HCC started single-stream recycling.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection explains on their website:  single-stream recycling is when several materials are mixed together in the same container. Paper, bottles and cans do not need to be separated. It’s said to increase recycling rates, and potentially reduce collection costs, saving communities money. Yet, DEEP warns, “Residents [must] understand that recyclables still need to be separated from the trash…[they] cannot be mixed [together] in the same collection container.”

Several professors at HCC agree that there is currently widespread confusion and a distinct lack of knowledge and clarity among students over what is recyclable, and what bins are for garbage.

“Recycling bins don’t get used as much as they should.” Antonios Pappantoniou, Professor of Biology, says. Pappantoniou says he would like to see a “good recycling program” put in place. He suggested the campus gather items from the bins on campus to sell to companies that buy it by the pound.

Photo by Environmental Images, made available through Brittanica ImageQuest

Photo by Environmental Images, made available through Brittanica ImageQuest

Marina Philips, Professor of Mathematics and a former FOE advisor, says the problem of recycling can be mitigated in another way. Philips suggests, “[We can] reduce the amount of paper we use. It’s getting worse and worse, [really] out of hand. Faculty and staff [have more and more] administrative paper work.”

While Lutris would prefer implementing a “rigorous and strict recycling program,” he agrees that it’s practical for HCC to go paperless. “[Professors can] put things on Blackboard.” By making assignments accessible for students instead of printing out copies to distribute, valuable resources are saved.

As for what is currently being done, it is unarguably significant. Hennessey says natural gas is the primary fuel used at HCC, “It’s less polluting and more efficient.” Hennessey says.

HCC uses a considerable amount of electricity. Yet, as a prime example of conservation, Hennessey explains that the motor mechanism isn’t fixed at just one speed. By working at the rate it needs to, HCC uses energy more efficiently. In that same vein, two or three years ago LED light fixtures were put into all of the public corridor spaces.

The US Department of Energy published a study examining LED lighting compared to fluorescent on their website. Across the board, LED fixtures were found to be more efficient and environmentally friendly than fluorescents.  Hennessey say that HCC is also in the process of swapping in LED lights in the parking garage, courtyard and cafeteria.

HCC is seeing green in other ways, “No pesticides or fertilizers [are used] on the grounds. No chemicals [are] allowed,” explains Building superintendent Dennis Minella.

Additionally, the contract janitorial service HCC employs, for the most part, “green cleans,” primarily using citrus based sanitizers.

HCC is also environmentally conscious in the paper department, “All the paper we buy here is 30 percent recycled content,” says Minella.“…[And] the toilet paper and hand towels also have recycled content.”

While HCC has certainly taken some steps towards environmental awareness, there isn’t much being done currently. FOE has not started up again and there are currently no plans to restart the club at any time soon. Further green changes may be on the horizon, but they are a ways off.

If there’s a way to make things another shade of green, and at a faster rate, it comes down to one word: students. Collaboration between students, faculty, and administrators can bring real changes to the campus. “We need to do whatever we can.” Pappantoniou says, “It’s all part of everybody’s day to day responsibilities.”

Lutris says student perspectives are not just refreshing but they are crucial if any real changes are to be made. He drives professors and staff to reevalute their own opinions and actions.

Reluctant students ought to keep in mind, as Philips says, “We should think of the earth as our home. Keep[ing] it clean, healthy, and conserv[ing] is never going to hurt. It’s your house, take care of it, it’s the only one you have.”