By Julia Ferrante
LEWISBURG, Pa. — About once a week, Elizabeth McCarthy scoops out bits of discarded orange peel, broccoli, tomatoes, egg shells, coffee grounds and other compostable items from a large plastic bin kept on the porch of her residence hall.
She uses a small gardening tool to pull back the decomposing newspaper strips and rich, brown "dirt" left behind by an army of composting worms and buries the new supply of food. The soil is saved for a spring garden, where local vegetables will be grown and used for Sunday dinners.
"It's really not an inconvenience," said McCarthy, a Bucknell University senior majoring in animal behavior. "I guess other people might find it inconvenient."
McCarthy, of Devon, Pa., is one of 13 students living at Taylor Street House, a sustainable living cooperative at Bucknell that formally began this fall. Composting is McCarthy's chosen and assigned task as a member of the co-op, but living sustainably requires a much more comprehensive commitment to green living.
Committed to conservation
Taylor Street House this year is dedicated to housing a selected group of students who have pledged to reduce their collective carbon footprint through streamlining electricity consumption and water use and by buying food grown or produced locally. That means taking timed showers - with the goal of finishing in five minutes or less, using energy-efficient light bulbs and keeping hallways dark, hanging laundry on an outdoor clothesline, collecting water in a rain barrel, sharing Sunday dinners and self-powering a bicycle-operated blender to make fruit smoothies and other such concoctions.
The students and Dina El-Mogazi, the director of the campus greening initiative, hope to set an example for other students and to raise awareness about energy conservation and sustainable living in general. Many of the students who live at Taylor Street House have been involved with other efforts at the Bucknell Environmental Center, which opened in 2007. Some are majoring in environmental studies or environmental engineering or were part of the environmental residential college special interest housing.
The Environmental Center, which is housed in a brick building on the southeast side of campus, includes native flower and organic vegetable gardens and a woodland garden with native trees such as winterberry holly and sweet gum to replace a conventional lawn. Solar panels that were installed as an educational tool for the Solar Scholars program funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection also provide about 12 percent of the power needed for the building.
Efforts across campus
University-wide greening efforts include plans for a LEED-certified building complex with several residence halls, fraternities, and a common building on the east side of campus. The facilities department recently converted to recycled paper towels and toilet tissue. Students this year also organized a 350 Climate Action Festival as part of a national effort to raise awareness about pollution and energy consumption.
The students living at Taylor Street House take extra steps to maintain a sustainable way of life, El-Mogazi said.
"Taylor Street House is for students who are looking to go out of their way to be inconvenienced and to be sustainable," she said. "These are students who are willing to wash their wash in another building, to take it down to the house and hang it out to dry, and they keep their compost in the living room."
Living more sustainably
Barbara Summers, a junior from Cleveland who is majoring in environmental studies and urban sustainability, a course of study she designed herself, said she was looking for a way to live more sustainably before she moved into Taylor Street House.
"As someone who is studying environmental issues, we need to make changes," she said. "It is really important to start a commitment to changing things. We want to try to spread ideas from this house."
Ali Blumenstock, a junior from Haverton, Pa. who also is majoring in environmental studies, said she wanted to hold herself more accountable to green living.
"This is definitely a small version of what we'd like to see happen on campus," Blumenstock said. "We are looking to conserve as much as possible. We turn off lights all the time. We've tried to do things on campus to change the amount of consumption, like putting signs on paper towel dispensers saying, 'These come from trees.' There are little things like that to do step by step."
Small changes add up
Matt Tilford, a junior history and political science major, has reduced his shower time to about five minutes. He hangs his laundry on an outdoor clothesline and tries to shop at places like the Lewisburg Farmers' Market and nearby Ard's Farm. In the spring, Tilford will be in charge of a house garden.
The students collectively purchased a 1969 Schwinn bicycle for $30 to power an old blender and make smoothies - an idea they got from YouTube videos and nearby Dickinson College.
Future plans include applying for a grant to help pay for Energy Star-rated appliances. The hope is to reduce overall electrical use as much as possible.
"We are looking to graph the results each month so we can each try to reduce the amount of electricity and water we use," Blumenstock said. "In September, we found we are not living as sustainably as we'd like to, and we'll use that as our baseline and go down from there."
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