Many people believe that recycling is a ”zero-sum” game; meaning, in this case, that the cost of setting up a recycling program for your golf club results in your checkbook balance adding up to zero. But while the up-front expenses may seem daunting, an effective recycling program can actually reduce your long-term operating costs, and in some cases can even allow for a small source of revenue for the club. Couple that with adopting composting and other natural soil amendments such as compost tea and bokashi (a Japanese process involving fermented organic matter), and a significant cut in maintenance costs can also be seen.
Because clubs tend to be their own eco-system of sorts, incorporating recycling is not as difficult as it may seem. Theoretically, facilities are able to control the majority of food and beverage containers players take on the golf course with them. The challenge becomes getting all of those items into the right place in order to keep them out of the dumpster for items destined for the landfill. Further, collection in and around the clubhouse is something that can be controlled through proper signage and receptacle placement. In addition, encouraging involvement with the initiative, for example creating a “recycling committee” involving staff and members alike, helps to create buy-in and encourages the program’s success.
Being able to divert glass, plastic, paper and aluminum cans from the landfill can result in long-term savings for your club, as the size of your dumpster will be reduced, and the frequency of your pick-ups may become less. But that doesn’t solve what is perhaps the biggest space-hog in a facility’s dumpster: cardboard.
The amount of cardboard that we all go through is staggering, and a club is no exception. From the pro-shop, to the kitchen, to the maintenance area, being able to cut down on the amount of cardboard in your dumpster makes for a significant space savings. Even if you have a separate dumpster for cardboard, the amount of time it takes to breakdown boxes can be counter-productive. For a very reasonable expense, you can purchase a small baler that does not take up much space and will allow for you to fit more cardboard per dumpster load without physically breaking down each box. In fact, in certain areas YOU can get paid to have someone pick up your baled cardboard. This not only helps you to pay-off the baler itself, but it also eats into those upfront costs that go into implementing a recycling program.
What about composting? Did you know the city of Seattle, Washington now prohibits people from disposing of their food waste in the garbage? All residents and commercial entities in Seattle now must dispose of all uneaten food (including cardboard and paper with food on it) in special bins to be carried away much like recycling services that are now mandated throughout many municipalities in the U.S. In 2012, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food. In fact, the same study showed that we as a country throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal or glass. Without a doubt, the amount of food that gets thrown away at any club in the U.S. can easily and cost-effectively be turned into an additional, natural amendment to maintain healthy turfgrass on your course.
The reasons why clubs may be hesitant to adopt a composting program are numerous. Concerns about odor, lack of space or expertise, and labor to maintain the pile are all legitimate reasons not to compost. But there is an alternative that cures many of those ills, and results in potentially richer compost in a shorter amount of time. Vermicomposting is hardly a new technology, as people have been using worms to turn their food and yard wastes into fertilizer for many years. In fact, courses like Dairy Creek in San Luis Obispo, California have undertaken a project with the goal of making their facility “zero-waste”, meaning the goal is to either reuse, recycle, or compost all waste that comes from the facility. Dairy Creek has even gone so far as to incorporate their project as an educational tool for the community. School groups and the like come to visit the facility’s “Zero-Waste Park”, which showcases the vermicomposting technology for all to see. These tours come with the hope that a similar initiative will be taken back to the homes, schools and businesses of the tour-goers.
The uses of vermicompost, or worm castings, don’t stop at using it as a granular amendment. By steeping the compost in actively aerated water for a period of 18-24 hours, a very effective and beneficial liquid soil amendment called compost tea can be used as a part of a weekly or bi-weekly regiment. Courses like the Presidio in San Francisco have been using compost tea for fifteen years as a part of their “organic-only” approach, and have consistently seen root growth and healthier soil.
It is worth noting that the costs from making and using vermicompost and compost tea are much less than conventional fertilizers, resulting in less of your budget being devoted to said fertilizers. Further, tests have shown that because the turf is healthier, less water and pesticides need to be used, giving your club’s bottom line another much needed boost.
There is no question that diverting waste from the dump is becoming more of a necessity, as landfills grow more full and urban sprawl prohibits larger cites from getting their waste to a close-by, uninhabited area. Additionally, with golf’s ever-rising operating costs, it should be every facility’s priority to become as self-sustaining as possible. Taking a few steps now can help your club more readily focus on the long-term.
Not only will taking these strides encourage healthier line-items on you budget, it gives golf a much-needed public relations boost. Participation across the board is stagnating, and actually falling in the younger demographics where we need growth the most. By communicating a more progressive, environmentally friendly message, we increase our chances of being able to keep the game going strong well into our country’s next economic boom.
Travis Lesser is an Entrepreneurship Instructor at Penn State University, and is also the Owner and Founder of Spring Mill Solutions.