Karen Blaney

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Hundreds of students across campus working on green fee-funded projects have helped reroute over 27,000 pounds of UT’s compost from landfills, plant over 75,000 seedlings and grow about 250 pounds of produce.

The $5 student fee, the green fee, that makes these environmental projects, along with other University environmental initiatives, possible is at risk for removal this legislative session. Green fee-funded programs include projects such as the Microfarm, Longhorn Lights Out and the solar-powered charging stations.

In order for the green fee to be renewed past summer 2016, lawmakers must approve one of two bills filed in the House and Senate that would allow the fee to continue with student approval.

Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), author of the Senate version of the bill, placed his bill on Thursday’s intent calendar but said he doesn’t think there is enough support to renew the green fee.

“Right now the bill is stuck, unless more members of the Senate have a change of heart,” Rodríguez said in an email.

The House version of the bill remains pending in committee after an April 22 hearing.

All students pay the green fee, and it costs $5 during long semesters and $2.50 each summer semester. Karen Blaney, program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said most students pay, on average, $40 to $50 during their time on campus.

The fee was established on campus in 2011 under the authorization of a piece of legislation passed during the 2009 legislative session. The original bill stipulates that a University could implement an environmental-service fee that would be renewable for five years if approved by a student vote. UT’s program is currently entering its fifth year of operation.

The original bill does not clarify what happens after that fifth year. Current legislation that Rodríguez and Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin), who is the author of the original bill, filed would allow renewal of the fee every five years if the fee is approved by a student body vote.

“There are students all the time wanting to see a more environmentally friendly campus, and this is an opportunity for students to have a little bit of control — have a little influence in where their campus is going,” said Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, Green Fee Committee member and international relations and global studies senior who has been lobbying for the bills this session.

Since 2011, the fee has issued 103 grants and 67 distinct projects and employed 101 students in 59 new jobs. 

Approximately 6,800 students, representing 20 student organizations, submitted a letter to lawmakers in support of the green fee’s renewal.

“I hope it gets renewed,” said Allie Jeong, president of Longhorn Lights Out. “I think them taking away all the opportunities and potential programs at UT is pretty terrible.” 

Blaney said current projects would be completed even if the fund is not renewed for a sixth year.

“We would facilitate the completion of any project that has been funded, so nobody has to worry about that,” Blaney said. “I am certain that everything that has been approved this far is safe.”

The challenge would be for ongoing and new potential projects, which would lose a funding source, if the bills do not pass, director of sustainability Jim Walker said.

“They would have a challenge to figure out how to keep their operations going,” Walker said. “Now we would help them with that, but there’s not more money lying around the university, so it would be a challenge.”

The University installed a solar-powered charging station outside the Art Building and Museum in June. The station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After four years of preparation, the University installed two solar-powered charging stations, one outside the Perry-Castañeda Library and the other outside the Art Building and Museum, in June.

While other campuses such as Stanford University and Hampshire College have introduced similar charging stations, these stations are the first solar-powered, permanent fixtures on the UT campus. Powered through a roof composed of three solar panels, each station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time, among other electronics. Each station's six batteries allow users to charge their electronics at nighttime and on cloudy days.

The Green Fee Committee, an on-campus organization made up of students, faculty and staff members, decided in 2010 to fund the student proposal for the charging stations as part of its mission to support environmental-conscious campus initiatives. Karen Blaney, program coordinator of the Green Fee Committee, said while the stations may not significantly offset the use of fossil fuel-based energy on campus, they can teach students and community members about solar energy in an interactive way.

“It reminds people that solar energy is an option and that it’s a growing technology,” Blaney said.

During her freshman year, Megan Archer, environmental and biological sciences senior, pushed the original proposal for a solar-power project on campus as part of a class assignment with now-alumni Eric Swanson and Austin Jorn. She said her team originally had proposed solar panel roofs on University buildings, but budgetary restraints stood in the way. They decided to stick with their idea of solar-powered technology because they wanted to see solar energy on campus for the first time.

“We liked the idea of how restrictive [working with solar power] was,” Archer said. “UT didn’t have anything that was solar-powered then.”

Archer collaborated with Beth Ferguson, a UT alumna and founder of Sol Design Lab, a design company that has helped create solar charging stations at other universities, to rent a temporary charging station for the PCL plaza in 2012. During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model

During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model.

“Solar power is hard to understand, so we wanted the project to be hands-on,” Archer said. “We wanted students to have that hands-on experience with our solar station to create their own and modify [their stations] to meet their needs.”

With funding from the Green Fee Committee and the Science Undergraduate Research Group, the customized charging stations, which cost about $60,000 each, were constructed.

Nicholas Phillips, mechanical engineering senior and president of student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, said he hopes the demand for renewable energy products increases on campus.

“The main hindrance with renewable energy advancements is the lack of awareness of the current technologies that are available,” Phillips said in an email. “By having more projects on campus, we are making sustainability become a staple in our campus and by extensions our lives.”

The final phase of the charging station project will include a customized touch screen device, which will display the station's available stored energy, according to Blaney. Students are working on a mobile feature, such as a website or phone application, that will allow users to check the station's available energy, Blaney said.

The University will celebrate the installation of the charging stations on Sept. 19 outside the Art Building and Museum with a series of solar energy workshops.

Fliers and emails educating students on which materials to toss into which bins rarely catch the attention of college students, but a group is hoping a towering fort made of cardboard boxes will. 

America Recycles Day is Friday and instead of handing out promotional fliers on pieces of paper, the Campus Environmental Center and the UT Office of Sustainability are teaming up to promote recycling by building the largest box castle ever built by a university.

“We are by far the biggest university to go for this,” said Karen Blaney, program coordinator of operations within the Office of Sustainability. 

The first university to set the record for largest university box castle was Harvard University in 2011. Brigham Young University is the most recent university to claim the title, and UT hopes to beat BYU to raise awareness for its recycling endeavors. This is the first year UT is attempting to build a giant cardboard fort and beat the current record.

“It’s really hard to get information out around campus and so we figured if there’s a massive cardboard box fort outside of Gregory you can’t really miss it,” the center’s adviser Hobson.

The groups hope the cardboard box castle will draw attention to UT’s switch over the summer to single-stream recycling, which means that instead of choosing from five different bins for one material, students will usually be able to use just one. Fewer materials will need to be separated out when recycled. 

“Since we have facilities that can process single stream, we figured it’s easier,” Hobson said. “It would be such an educational campaign. It’s a nightmare at a campus this big to try to tell people to sort everything.”

The box castle competition will also raise awareness of UT’s general commitment to recycling. Aside from the activities on America Recycles Day, the center is working on a major project called Trash to Treasure. In this program, the center will collect unwanted belongings from students as they move out at the end of the school year and store them over the summer. When school begins again, the center will recycle those materials to create one huge garage sale.  

“I think the students all know what recycling is, and I think 10 years ago not everybody was coming from a place where they would recycle at home,” Blaney said. “We’re working on getting recycling more available to them, and more convenient, so you can just look at a material and know what to do with what
you’re holding.”

The center also has programs year-round that are meant to promote UT’s mission to recycle.

“We’ll have a fair that will highlight some of the other things, like we have some Styrofoam recycling and tailgate recycling,” Hobson said. “So we’ll start to give recognition to some of the smaller programs that we have on campus.”

UT landscapers are looking towards xeriscaping, a process in which landscapers replace grass with low-water plants or stone to reduce the usage of water needed to maintain the gardens.

Photo Credit: Yamel Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

Walking to class, students might see more pebbles and agave plants and fewer grassy areas along buildings as UT landscapers are opting for more native Texas plants and low water-use landscaping to reduce irrigation water use.

Facilities Services manager John Burns said with an ongoing drought and city water restrictions, landscapers are trying to keep the University’s gardening attractive without wasting water on upkeep by using low-water native and adapted plants that do well in this climate.

Burns said they are also xeriscaping, which replaces grass with stone or rocks and desert-type plants that need minimal water.

“They will survive longer with less water,” Burns said. “Being native or adapted they already use less water than other plants but they still need some extra.”

Markus Hogue, irrigation and water conservation coordinator, said at least six areas on campus are using xeriscaping techniques to cut irrigation to a fraction of previous water use.

“We’re collecting data and finding high water use areas. We changed out the landscaping so that it doesn’t require as much water as before,” Hogue said. “We’re putting in drought tolerant material that is able to survive the environment.”

The area outside of the Harry Ransom Center is one of the areas xeriscaped. Facilities worked with the Green Fee Committee, a program that awards funds to student led environmental science projects on campus.

Karen Blaney, Sustainability Operations assistant manager and Green Free program coordinator, said the student plans for xeriscaping the center were implemented by UT landscapers. Blaney said about 10 percent of the project proposals submitted aim to conserve water use.

“Students had the idea to change the area near Harry Ransom, which wasn’t very attractive and the Green Fee project beautified that space,” Blaney said.

Blaney said the program is working with students toward a plan to revitalize the area around Bass Concert Hall and make it a low water use landscape. Hogue said the trees also help cut costs.

“Our trees hold the moisture underneath it, so we were able to start pulling back certain areas that were being over watered. We’re trying to be efficient,” Hogue said.

Burns said most of the trees in the center of campus were planted in the 1930s, and keeping them healthy is important for the visual appeal and protection from the sun.

Burns said with another hot summer expected to worsen the Texas drought conditions and potentially reduce the University’s water budget from the city, maintaining irrigation water for the trees on campus will be his main priority.

“It could be bad this year,” Burns said. “We will take as many heroic steps as we need to try to maintain our trees. That will be our focus and watering those can help the landscape around them. Most of the trees on campus are native trees, but in nature we’re losing native trees because of this extended drought, so we still have to put additional water on them.”

John Thompson, an organic chemistry graduate student, chooses items to buy from the office supply sale in the Anna Hiss Gym.  The office supply swap is selling used products to students for discounted prices.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Notebooks, printer cartridges and other office supplies were organized onto tables in the Anna Hiss Gymnasium on Tuesday for UT’s first Trash to Treasure Office Supply Swap.

The Campus Environmental Center, Office of Sustainability and Division of Housing and Food Service partnered together to host the supply swap for UT staff to bring in unwanted office supplies and trade them in for supplies they might need.

“I wanted to do something that I knew staff would hear about and hopefully re-spark the interest in recycling,” said Karen Blaney, sustainability operations assistant manager. 

The two-day event was held Monday and Tuesday when faculty stopped by to pick up whatever supplies they needed. 

“I’m just hoping this diverts a couple thousand pounds from the landfill and hopefully gets it to people who want it instead of people who are resentful of it sitting in the closet,” Blaney said.

Blaney said the UT Elementary School and an office supply reuse store were also invited to select whatever they wanted and the leftover supplies would be auctioned off to the general public.

Environmental science freshman Toni Red volunteered at the event with the Campus Environmental Center and she said she was glad to see people bringing in items to donate and recycle. 

“There [are] so many things that we don’t really use so it’s good to reuse them,” Red said. “If not, they would probably end up in landfills or stuck in a drawer.” 

Jennifer Hobson, sustainability program coordinator, said the supply swap was also economically beneficial to participants. 

“A lot of office supplies are very expensive and this way people can come get office supplies without spending the money, so I think that’s one of the benefits,” Hobson said.

Hobson said the event was such a success, the event organizers are looking into inviting students to participate in the event next year and to hopefully raise awareness of recycling options. 

“I think there’s enough stuff that was left over that if we can make it available to students, it would be beneficial for everybody at UT,” Hobson said.

Published on February 20, 2013 as "Environmental Center recycle office supplies". 

UT students Alison Wyllie and Shelly Bergel remove weeds from seedlings at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Saturday. The seedlings are slated to be delivered to areas affected by last yearÂ’s fires in Bastrop County.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With Tuesday marking the one-year anniversary of the most destructive fire in Texas history that reduced more than 30,000 acres of Bastrop County to ashes and more than 1,500 homes to mere memories, a UT graduate student is working to restore life to the affected landscape.

UT molecular biology graduate student Vlad Codrea has spent the last year developing and maintaining a tree nursery at UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with the goal of delivering thousands of native tree seedlings for Bastrop residents and park officials to plant. Codrea hopes this massive effort will help restore natural areas that were devastated in last year’s fire.

“[The seedlings] will be given out to landowners whose land had been burned by the fires as well as planted across Bastrop State Park,” Codrea said.

Codrea said he plans to distribute the 70,000 seedlings growing at the Wildflower Center to Bastrop residents and park officials in October.

UT’s Green Fee Committee funds the majority of Codrea’s tree nursery, the first of its kind at UT, with a $54,000 grant distributed over three years. A part of the Office of Sustainability, the committee allocates the funds it receives from the $5-a-year “Green Fee” that each student pays as part of student fees.

Karen Blaney, Green Fee Committee program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, said the project’s originality and long-term positive effects motivated the committee to award the grant.

“In terms of far-reaching impacts, it is up there,” Blaney said. “There is hope for the tree nursery even after he gets his degree and moves on.”

Codrea received the grant before the fires took place, with the intention of creating a student-run tree nursery at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, but moved to the Wildflower Center and integrated his efforts with theirs after seeing first-hand how destructive the Bastrop fire had been to native plant species in the Lost Pines region.

“After the fires, we knew we had a great responsibility and opportunity to help with the reforestation and restoration project of the Lost Pines,” Codrea said.

Since receiving the grant, Codrea has worked with the Wildflower Center to build a suitable greenhouse for the nursery and hosts student and community volunteers every Saturday. 

Microbiology graduate student Jeremy Henderson helped tend to the seedlings for the first time at last Saturday’s volunteer event.

“By replanting the trees, I think it is a reminder that not only is there a community available to help them nearby, but it also helps them heal those wounds of loss,” Henderson said.

Saralee Tiede, spokesperson for the Wildflower Center, said the nursery is the most extensive project a student has ever conducted in conjunction with the center.  

As for the use of the Green Fee funds on the nursery, Blaney said the nursery is a very visible example of the Green Fee at work and its benefit to the University and community.

“Every single year, students come and wonder what UT is doing for the surrounding community,” Blaney said. “The tree nursery is a really good answer for one way that UT can contribute to the region.”

Blaney hopes the free and public nursery that often hosts student volunteers will spur student interest in conservation and sustainability issues.  

“Not many people get to grow a tree,” Blaney said. “Who knows what it will spark in somebody?” 

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: Seeds donated to Bastrop 

Resident advisor Eileen Kao explains how single stream recycling has been implemented into the dorms. Residents now have a single blue bin for all recycling needs instead of having to sort through recycled matter between two bins.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

UT Division of Housing and Food Service is implementing single-stream recycling to encourage students and staff to dispose of waste properly.

University officials hope to decrease the campus’ trash output by commissioning a study of how waste is disposed, which will conclude by the end of the fall semester.

Karen Blaney, assistant manager in Campus Planning and Facilities Management, said UT produced 140,000 pounds of trash per week, but only 66,400 pounds of recyclable waste per week during the spring semester.

“We have some work to do,” Blaney said.

She said the University will advertise its proposal for the study to contractors in the next few weeks.

Blaney said the study will analyze, among other factors, how much recyclable material is being disposed of in trash bins instead of recycling bins, and how much food waste is being disposed of in trash and recycle bins instead of being composted.

She said the contractor will analyze the waste output from academic and administrative facilities, and will include the athletics department and University Unions, if those departments decide to participate in the study.

Last spring, the Division of Housing and Food Service implemented a recycling program that provides two waste bins in residential halls: one for trash and one for paper, plastic and aluminum waste.

Scott Meyer, director of dining services at DHFS, oversees the division’s sustainability initiatives and said on-campus residence halls originally provided three cans for waste disposal: one for trash, one for paper waste and one for plastic and aluminum waste.

Meyer said he hopes consolidating recycling bins will encourage students and staff to recycle more frequently because they do not have to sort waste themselves.

Social work freshman Adilene Muñoz lives in Jester Center and said she does not currently recycle, but that single-stream recycling bins may encourage her to do so.

“I guess I’m just lazy about it,” she said.

Whole Foods employee Ronny Gaitan empties out a recycling bin in order to maintain a going green friendly environment Wednesday afternoon. Businesses on Sixth Street are expected to receive new trash bins where they will accept more recyclable materials with one trash bin instead of having several slots for the different types of items.

Photo Credit: Shila Farahani | Daily Texan Staff

The city has started a new program for downtown businesses that simplifies recycling with hopes of decreasing waste.

City service provider Austin Resource Recovery unveiled a new recycling program last week that allows downtown businesses to mix recyclables in one dumpster rather than separating the materials into different bins, said Lauren Hammond, Austin Resource Recovery spokeswoman. Hammond said the new service is an attempt to increase downtown recycling with no extra cost to the businesses.

“Austin Resource Recovery service area includes about 400 businesses,” Hammond said. “The downtown entertainment area, like Sixth Street and Congress Avenue will be affected a lot. All of those businesses will receive the new dumpsters, and we hope the number grows as other businesses see the convenience of the dumpsters at no extra cost.”

Hammond said previously downtown businesses could only recycle glass, paper and cardboard in separate bins, but a single bin will now accept glass, paper/cardboard, hard plastic, aluminum and steel.

She said the businesses affected by the new program recycled 750,000 pounds of glass and paper and cardboard in 2011, and they are expected to recycle more this year because of the new dumpsters.

“We don’t know yet how much more recycling will occur due to the new system, but we will be monitoring it to get that data,” Hammond said. “We certainly hope and expect that even more will be recycled downtown.”

Because UT is outside of the downtown area and recycles under a state program rather than the city, it will continue to recycle in separate bins, said Karen Blaney, assistant manager for UT’s Office of Sustainability.

“At the present time, UT-Austin will continue to separate paper from other recyclable materials, as the clean paper stream is an important revenue source for continuing the recycling program,” Blaney said.

Blaney said UT currently recycles about 66,400 pounds of can, bottle and paper/cardboard recyclables per week using separate bins for each, although she said it is difficult to calculate an exact number because so much recycling is occurring all over campus.

Undeclared freshman Melissa Ruiz said she would not recycle at all if not for the recycling bins conveniently located around campus.

“I just see those bins everywhere,” she said. “Even if I’m rushing to class I can stop and put my plastic bottle in a plastic recycle bin without even thinking about it. I guess almost everyone on campus recycles without even realizing it’s because of those bins.”

Blaney said the athletics program diverted an additional 29 tons of plastic, glass and aluminum during the 2011 football season alone, and the Division of Housing and Food Service has recycled 186 tons of food waste this school year. She said UT also recycles through its furniture shop, which rehabilitates old furniture and recycles unused construction materials. The numbers from these programs increase the diversion rate, Blaney said.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: New recycling program targets local businesses

Theater and dance majors Lindsey Miller, left, and Cara Smith, right, peruse the tables covered in shoes, apparel, knickknacks and house ware in front of the Peter Flawn Academic Center during a university-wide garage sale Friday afternoon. All merchandise was priced at $1 and proceeds benefited the Campus Environmental Center.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Tables filled with clothing, shoes, accessories, school supplies, electronics and household items dominated the entrance plaza to the Flawn Academic Center as a student environmental group hosted its seventh annual “Trash to Treasure” garage sale.

The Campus Environmental Center raised $2,144 on Friday by selling items students in campus residence halls donated at the end of last semester. Most clothing items and pairs of shoes cost only $1. Of approximately 2,000 pounds of items for sale, the group sold 80 percent and donated the remainder to Austin State Hospital, a local mental health facility.

Campus Environmental Center adviser and sustainability operations assistant manager Karen Blaney said Austin State Hospital and the center have had a mutually beneficial relationship since 2008.

“They’re always in need of clothes for their residential patients,” Blaney said. “They’ve been able to come with a van and rolling bins and pick things up really efficiently, so we’ve always worked with them.”

Many universities collect items from student dormitories at the end of the year in charity drives, but UT is unique in reselling those items to students, Blaney said.

“It’s really easy to explain to the student population what we’re doing, and people really like the idea of thrift sales,” Blaney said. “We need a fundraiser that makes sense for what we do, for the Campus Environmental Center message.”

“Trash to Treasure” coordinator Reanna Bain said the organization usually holds the garage sale before the fall semester but changed the date this year to increase publicity opportunities.

Bain said she hopes the event will encourage students to think about how items they no longer want can be reused by others and help them develop recycling habits.

“For students, their lifestyle choices now reflect what they’re going to do in the future,” Bain said. “If they recycle now, they’re doing their part with their community, and that’s what they’re going to continue doing as adults when they’re out of school.”

Psychology senior Lisa Johnson said the sale was an opportunity to shop for necessary and fun items while sticking to a budget.

“I have a job where I have to look professional,” Johnson said. “Professional clothing is extremely expensive, and this is so much easier. This is so much better for me.”

Adesile Okeowo, a Middle Eastern studies teaching assistant, said he frequents garage sales because U.S. retail goods are far more expensive than those in his native Nigeria. He said throwing away the items would have been a wasted economic opportunity.

“It could have been thrown away, and it’s going to deny some people access to things,” Okeowo said. “After I got a few things from the H-E-B, Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, I stopped buying things from there. They are just too expensive for me.”