I am very pleased to say that one evening last week I began to work on a zero waste project for the Penn State Golf Courses in State College, Pennsylvania. The ultimate goal of this project, and Spring Mill Solutions’ expertise is to find ways to reduce waste, while at the same time adding environmentally sound and efficient course and club management practices to the operation. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the proper labeling of containers is imperative to make such a project work. In addition, the location and number of containers must also be considered in order to reach a zero waste goal.
As part of my initial assessment, I rode around the Blue and White golf courses, inspecting the current waste container layout and determining how players were using them. While riding around in a golf cart without my clubs and peering into every trash can and recycling bin may have resulted in some strange looks from players, it felt great to be out there on such a beautiful May evening.
It took me approximately ninety minutes to ride around the golf courses. While this was less time than I had anticipated it would take to conduct the assessment, I attribute that to the fact that I am very familiar with both layouts and knew the various “cut-through” paths the grounds crew uses to get around the course in a manner that does not interfere with play. However, this initial tour did reveal a way for the course to save some time in their operations, which may be the most valuable benefit to a grounds crew during the season. But more on that later.
One of the first pieces of useful information I gathered occurred when I drove up to my first water station, which happened to be next to the eighth tee of the Blue Course. I was pleased to see a blue, “slim jim” recycling container placed next to the water cooler kiosk. Unfortunately, that pleasure quickly went away when I stood next to it and looked inside. Two paper, cone-shaped cups from the dispenser attached to the water cooler were sitting inside. While this shows an understanding that these paper cups are recyclable, my concern is that this is not the intended can for those cups. If the course only recycles certain items, or if the items need to be separated, wrong inputs could result in contamination issues rendering those items unrecyclable.
Contamination is a major problem when it comes to recycling. In an August 2015 USA Today interview, Waste Management director of of public affairs Susan Robinson estimated that the recycling the company processes is 16% contaminated. The same article goes on to say this number has doubled in the past ten years. Paper cups by themselves are likely not going to create a contamination problem, but concern is warranted if other items are placed into the container with recyclable products. The takeaway from this is that receptacles need to be properly labeled indicating proper inputs, as this eliminates many problems before they happen.
The biggest takeaway from my initial assessment has to do with the number and location of receptacles on the golf course. Across the 36 holes at Penn State, there are 51 containers ranging in size from small cans to a couple of large 95 gallon rolling containers, most of these are staged at or near the teeing ground of each hole. That’s 51 containers that must be checked each morning by a staff member. Even if the container is empty, that employee must take a moment to check it in order to be sure. Any time saved by consolidating the number of receptacles and strategically placing them at select areas around the course would most certainly be beneficial. In my mind, the best places for these receptacles would be at water stations and/or at strategic “cross-over” points where players pass by multiple times during the round. I don’t think there is a superintendent anywhere that does not want to reduce staff hours for a daily task, and this is a rather simple solution to reach that end.
I will be continuing to post updates, including results from the waste audits being performed with the assistance of Penn State startup ReDi Index. Also, I will chronicle steps taken for procurement assistance to reduce the amount of the facility’s packaging being thrown out. This project will also be looking into recycling of golf course and clubhouse organic waste and utilizing these materials into the course’s maintenance regiment. So be sure to check back for regular updates on our progress on these fronts as well.
This is a very exciting time for Spring Mil Solutions, with even more news coming soon! Stay up to date on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and be sure to check the website. Finally, as always, please contact us if you would like to have your facility’s waste management practices assessed. With golf season in full swing, the sooner we set up your assessment, the sooner you can reduce costs, and improve your course operation efficiency and its environmental footprint.
Travis Lesser is an Entrepreneurship Instructor at Penn State University, and is also the Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions.