Going green isn’t just about the Spartans in East Lansing

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From non-profits and local community members to city advisors and corporations, there is a lot going on in and around East Lansing to improve sustainability and access to recycling. Vast improvement in these areas is no easy feat, but people at all levels of the community are working to increase access to going greener.

At the grassroots level is Michigan Energy Options, a “consulting non-profit,” as Outreach Coordinator Chelsea Stein calls it.

One of the non-profit’s locations is in East Lansing, and Stein helps plan events and community projects. Her biggest is the Community Solar Project in East Lansing. This will allow Board of Water and Light customers to lease solar panels and get money taken off their monthly bill for switching to solar power.

Stein said that Michigan Energy Options has one Community Solar Project up and fully operational in the Upper Peninsula. The one in East Lansing will begin construction when 800 to 1,000 panels have been leased, according to the community website.

“It’s a fairly new idea to people in the community,” said Stein.

Even though it is a new idea, the organization is working to bring it to more communities. Stein said one of the non-profit’s goals is to bring another Community Solar Project to Lansing.

Renewable energy is a hot topic. However, according to the Sierra Club only five other cities in the United States run on 100 percent renewable energy.

“I’d love to see the city be 100 percent renewable energy,” said East Lansing City Council Member Shanna Draheim. She said she would like to see the city hit that goal in the next five to 10 years.

Recycling is part of the picture

One big issue in these communities is access to recycling. Draheims aid East Lansing implemented curbside recycling about a year ago.

“There has been a huge increase in recycling,” said Draheim, “diverted from trash bin to recycling bin.”

Old apartment complexes did not require recycling, but according to Draheim, any built since seven to eight years ago are required to provide recycling services.

“Wherever people go, we want them to be able to recycle,” said East Lansing Environmental Services administrator Catherine DeShambo.

Just as the city is working on improving recycling, so is Michigan State University.

Michigan State’s recycling center and surplus store now divert 60 percent of their waste away from landfills, according to Michigan State Recycling Coordinator Dave Smith. This means that 60 percent of waste thrown away is sorted and can be recycled. Smith said the center’s goal is 70 percent.

“Our whole goal is to divert as much material from the landfill as possible,” said Smith.

He said that sorting waste gives the recycling center a good idea of the waste stream. Based on what they have sorted so far, about 30 percent is organic material. Smith said that the center wants as much of that organic material as possible to end up composted instead of in the landfill.

Outside of diversion, the recycling center also tries to surplus what it can. Smith said the Surplus Store allows the center to make money off recycling, the source of a lot of its revenue.

Recycling at a corporate level

At the corporate level, Dart Container is working not just on making one-use foodservice products, but also to increase access to recycling for such containers — styrofoam, paper, plastic — and educate people across the world on the environment.

One of Dart’s biggest projects is improving access to foam recycling. As a company that makes a lot of foam products, Dart wants people to properly dispose of its products after use.

“We’ve invested a lot of technology to see what works and what doesn’t,” said Michael Westerfield, Dart’s corporate director of recycling programs.

Recently, Dart has partnered with the State of California to add foam to curbside recycling. This is a project that it hopes to expand to communities across the country.

One thing that all these entities have in common is their desire to educate.
At the Nov. 20 meeting for the city’s Commission on the Environment, East Lansing Assistant Engineering Administrator Bob Scheuerman asked, “What type of campaign do you do with signs along our trails? What type of educational signs?”

“This is something that would be a great program for our trails and parks,” said Scheuerman.

I “spend a lot of time in the community with residents and students,” said DeShambo. “And I feel like we’re moving a lot of things forward.”

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