This fall, New England College welcomed Nicole Wozniak as the new Project Manager for Facilities and Sustainability. Upon meeting Nicole, I could feel the excitement radiating from her: she has bright ideas about recycling, composting and cultivating mindfulness around sustainability. Her energy is contagious and you can’t help but want to match her green enthusiasm.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Nicole to get to know her and learn about her ideas and goals to promote sustainability at New England College.
Nicole worked in facilities management for ten years prior to coming to New England College. She worked for Jones Lang LaSalle for many years but spent most of her time with Fidelity Investments working in Merrimack as well as Boston.
“While spending time on the Merrimack campus, I had the pleasure of working closely with a gentleman named Chuck Carberry. He is the Sustainability Innovation Officer as well as the Director for Landscape Architecture for the whole portfolio.” She noted that Chuck is very passionate about his work, “I have learned so much from him and continue to do so. In fact, he has passed on some great ideas related to NEC.”
Nicole is ready to share her own knowledge with our campus. She is passionate about her work and strives to contribute to the world, wanting to be a part of something that matters.
Nicole shared her first plan of action: “Revamping recycling.”
Nicole noted that she is aware of and grateful for the efforts devoted toward improving recycling prior to her time here and is pleased with the progress that has been made. She only wants to help build upon that foundation.
Nicole wants to start with recycling bins, as not everyone has a clear understanding of what can and cannot be recycled. Several buildings on campus have recycling bins but none of the bins look the same. Lyons has different bins than the Science building and the Science building has different bins than the Simon Center. The inconsistency of recycling bins can cause confusion, especially for students who are not familiar with how to recycle. Collectively, this can lead to contamination, and when contamination starts, recycling ends.
To begin tackling this issue, Nicole is looking into placing recycling bins on campus that would be identical to one another campus-wide to minimize confusion and drive consistency. She is also considering making signs that are effective in capturing the community’s attention and creating awareness, mindful of what will work best at New England College.
Nicole admitted that she would be willing to devote some time to stand by recycling bins and help educate people on the spot. When someone may be hesitating on whether they throw a Starbucks coffee cup in the waste bin or the recycling bin, she could use this as an opportunity to help educate them on what can and cannot be recycled and why it is so important. Communication is only effective when there is comprehension.
After recycling? “Pretty compost,” she said with a smile.
Food waste has to go somewhere. After a meal at Gilmore, plates sprinkled with leftovers ride away on the mysterious pink conveyor belt, but there is no away. Leftovers go into the garbage or are pulverized and head to a landfill. Gilmore grub becomes lost somewhere in the mountain of garbage. Buried, it anaerobically decomposes; this means that organic materials are being broken down by microorganisms but without oxygen. In reaction to this process, the organic materials (like food waste) release methane gas. Methane gas is stronger than carbon dioxide, and when released into the atmosphere it absorbs a lot of heat (not good!). Therefore, landfills have the potential to contribute to greenhouse gasses and global warming.
Gilmore food waste could be used toward sustainability practices, such as composting. Unlike landfills, compost piles go through aerobic decomposition. Aerobic decomposition means the waste is exposed to oxygen and live organisms help mix the compost, so oxygen is circulating. Compost releases carbon dioxide, but it’s less potent than methane gas and the end result is a natural, healthy soil.
Moving forward, Nicole wants to explore more sustainable options for handling food waste, and is in communication with Shawn Jackson, Director of Dining Services from Chartwells. Chartwells is doing their part to reduce food waste and has expressed willingness to be involved in any program to promote sustainability.
“It’s really great to be surrounded by people who ultimately just want to do the right thing,” Nicole said.
Gilmore is already taking steps toward a more sustainable dining hall by having limited trash bins so that Chartwells has more control over where food scraps and recyclables end up. Although this is more effort for Chartwells, it helps to ensure less contamination is occurring. Some scraps from meal preparation are given to a few Chartwells employees whom use those scraps to feed their chickens or pigs. In addition to food waste, most Chartwells catering supplies are compostable and they are working toward making it all compostable. Although there is room for improvement, Chartwells is doing what they can with the resources available to work toward sustainability.
Nicole jumped into explaining what pretty compost is.
“As a friend once told me, pretty compost should be a deep-brown black color and should smell like Earth,” Nicole said. “Good compost is considered ‘Black-Gold’ because of the benefits it adds to the soil. A few of those benefits are water retention, boost in crop productions and reducing the need for fertilizer or chemicals.”
Composting would be beneficial because the healthy soil could be reused here on campus around trees, flower beds or in the greenhouse.
Nicole continued to share more potential ideas, like getting LED energy efficient lights or even holding a “Green Games” which, depending on how it is constructed, could get undergraduates more engaged in recycling.
Nicole wants to make New England College a campus where people are wowed by sustainability practices. However, the biggest takeaway that emerged from speaking with her is passion and hope to help bridge a personal connection with the New England College community, so people are more aware and mindful on how to practice sustainability. This is a way to cultivate long term, positive change and I believe that Nicole is taking first steps to doing just that.