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In With the Old, Out With the New

In With the Old, Out With the New

The following blog post was written by 2018 Northeast Sustainable Systems Team: Erin Boehme, Mike Salzl, Natalie Dusek, Andy Angel, Jahir Aquino & Gabe Cayetano.

In With the Old, Out With the New: Reducing Waste By Reusing Gardening Supplies

Our Northeast Sustainable Systems Team at Spark-Y is working with three public schools in the Northeast Minneapolis area: Pillsbury Elementary, Northeast Middle School, and Edison High School. Our main focus at these locations is to work on repairing and optimizing the current sustainable systems at these schools, which consist of aquaponic systems at all three locations, as well as a community garden at the Edison location. These systems are used to introduce the students to the topic of sustainability in an engaging, hands-on manner; to provide the student body with the ability to learn more about both science in general and the skills needed for growing and farming; and finally to supply fresh, nutritious food to the school cafeterias.

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Recycling is a concept near and dear to every environmentally conscious individual’s heart. But how is it used in the garden? We used recycling in two primary ways: composting and aquaponics. Composting is a way that we can take nutrients from unwanted or unneeded sources, such as weeds or dead leaves, and turn it into a treatment to better our soil. An aquaponics system also serves to recycle nutrients in an indoor environment. As the fish excrete Ammonium and Nitrate through their waste and gills, the plants uptake the nutrients and filter the water for the fish.

It is important to remember that recycling is only one of the “Three R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. This phrase, repeated to us over and over again, seems to have lost its meaning. Many Americans focus almost solely on the recycling aspect of this mantra, when the practices of reducing and reusing are equally, if not more, important. All three are incredibly important when working towards sustainability in our nation, but it should be emphasized that these three actions are listed in order of focus. In other words, you should attempt to reduce the amount of materials you use as well as look to reuse those items, and only then recycle them once the former two paths have been exhausted.

In addition to recycling, the Northeast Sustainable Systems Team has been able to effectively use the other two vital principles of reducing and reusing in aspects of all of our projects’ systems, with our main focus in these first few weeks on Edison High School. For example, when we first started working in the Edison High School garden we noticed that there were many items left by the previous year’s gardeners. These materials were then utilized to further support the garden’s structure and to aid plant growth, amongst other tasks. We have identified five main ways in which we reused the materials already present in our gardening space, thereby reducing the number of supplies we had to purchase and diverting useful items from the landfill.


Spark-Y Plants

Rather than purchasing all of our plants from a garden store, we decided to bring some plants to our on-site locations from the Spark -Y headquarters, specifically from the Urban Agriculture Lab, or UAL. The UAL was almost overflowing with unused plants, and the Spark-Y staff were more than happy to unload some onto us. We then transferred our newly-acquired army of tomatoes, peppers, chives, and longevity spinach to the Edison High School aquaponics system and outdoor garden.


Wire Mesh

After planting in the garden, we noticed some sheets of wire mesh which had been left on the outside of the fence. We decided to use this material to support the growth of our tomato plants. The wire mesh was bent into a circle and inserted into the soil around each tomato plant, allowing the stems to cling onto the wire and grow upward, rather than outward. This not only allowed the tomato plants to thrive, but also prevented them from spreading along the ground and overcrowding one another.


Garden Rocks

While digging up one of the empty beds, we discovered several large rocks that had been hidden under the soil. What at first seemed to be only a few rocks later turned out to be a very large number, and we soon amassed a large collection. We elected to lay them out as a border for the garden’s gravel path, keeping the smaller rock gravel from moving into the open soil and vice versa. Not only did this have a practical use, but it also increased the overall visual appeal of the garden.


Letter "E" Sign

After cleaning up some trash around the perimeter of the fence, we found a very odd bit of litter: a large piece of metal, shaped into the letter E. One side of the E was painted white, and therefore we have speculated that it had been a part of a sign once spelling “Edison.” More importantly, however, the other side of the structure made the perfect space to plant flowers. Thus, the giant letter was reused as a lovely planter for some yellow marigold flowers, representing one of Edison’s school colors.   


Pea Plant Stakes

One of the plant varieties that we decided to grow in the garden were pea plants. These were placed around the inside edge of the fence and in some terraced, elevated planters. The seedlings by the fence would be able to wrap themselves around the slots in the fence, but the seedlings in the planters had no such support. In order to allow them to grow properly, we decided to stretch string down from an upper row of horizontal yarn. Then, taking some branches from a dead tree in our compost pile, we stuck some stakes into the planters’ soil and wrapped the string around them, pulling it taut enough to give support to the future pea tendrils. 

Sustainable practices can be implemented not only at Spark-Y, but in all aspects of our lives. As we attempt to go about our day to day lives in a way that respects the planet, it should be remembered that even little acts can make a difference, and that we can all work towards a greener Earth

Michael Salzl --- “At my college house at the University of St. Thomas I recycle recyclables and compost my organics waste. I also reuse glass jars for storage and as cups, and I have greatly reduced, if not stopped, my consumption of meat and single use plastics.”

Jahir Aquino Moran --- “The way I use the Three Rs in my life is when I’m reusing old or full PC parts for my current PC . For example if there is no more space in it i would look for a old and full hard drive and delete any thing that was in it and use it also with cooling systems.”

Andy Angel --- “The way I use one or all three R’s, Reduce Reuse and Recycle is when we use old boxes and plastic bins from food for other forms of storage for other food instead of buying new plastic stuff. We save money and prevent from using a ton of new plastic.”

Erin Boehme --- “I have been a vegetarian for two years, and so have a reduced reliance on livestock agriculture: something that produces a great amount of carbon-dioxide and methane (contributing to climate change) and uses a mind-boggling percentage of the world’s freshwater supply. I have also recently been trying to reduce the waste I produce by bringing reusable bags with me when shopping, and using tupperware to transport food instead of plastic wrap and plastic bags.”

Natalie Dusek --- “In my own life, I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle in many ways. In my house we use a compost bin daily to recycle food scraps, using them to create compost, which newly growing plants can use for nutrients. Additionally, I have made many personal daily changes in my life to reduce waste. For example, one of my friends and I created DIY bee wrap to wrap food instead of using plastic wrap or plastic bags. These are just a few examples of the many ways I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle in my own life!”

Gabriel Cayetano --- “I am a part-time vegetarian when I am at my mom’s house because she is vegetarian. We also have a compost bin that we use. I have also salvaged and reused computer parts that still function.  

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

The following internship post is brought to you by our Lube-Tech team,
written by: Madeline Reed, Erin Purvis, Taylor Schroeder, and Max Doty

About Lube-Tech

In 1925, an oil company by the name of Jennison Rollins was founded. Later in 1946 Argi-Tec Lubricants was created, and in 1993 Jennison Rollins Oil Company, Argi-Tec Lubricants, and Gopher Oil Company worked together and formed Lube-Tech. In 1997 Rollins Fuel Oil Company merged with Lube-Tech, and by 1998 Lube-Tech started a division to test the oils and fluids they produced. Lube-Tech started working with Randt Recycling, now known as Lube-Tech Liquid Recycling, which provides recycling for used oil, used filters, coolant, and more.

In today’s society, we can’t just cut oil out of our lives. We use oil everyday in our vehicles, heating, electricity generation, and even asphalt and road oil. So how do we lessen our environmental footprint? We recycle. Lube-Tech recognizes this, and they took action. Not only does Lube-Tech distribute oil, they also pick up used oil and used oil filters to be recycled. The used oil goes to one of two places- either to the lab to extract the water from the oil to be resold as used oil, or sold as burn oil for manufacturing of asphalt. Lube-Tech wanted to take it a step further and asked Spark-Y to produce a waste audit of their work space, and that’s where we come in.

Our Project

Within a six week timeline, we were asked to create a waste audit with Lube-Tech. We were given a project brief the first day to help us better understand what we needed to do. The main piece of this project was the waste audit, but it’s hard to write an audit when you know nothing about the company. So the next week we visited three Lube-Tech sites: one in Golden Valley, one in St. Paul, and one in Roseville. On the tours we got to see the behind the scenes of the actions taken to produce, distribute, and recycle oil. The Golden Valley site is the main production site, with roughly 39,400 square feet of production space. This is where the oil is manufactured, distributed, and tested. The St. Paul location is the smallest of the three. Here they don't manufacture any oil, but distribute it to multiple locations. Lastly, at the Roseville location the oil is separated from the water to be recycled and reused into new blends of  oils for a certain need. Although the waste audit is the biggest part of the project, it’s not the only thing we needed to do.

The next thing on our to-do list was creating an awareness campaign. On our tours we noticed how little the employees were recycling, so we decided to raise awareness on recycling. If you were to combine all the office trash from all three locations, about 64% of what was thrown in the trash could have been recycled. So, we decided to create posters to hang around the facilities to help guide the employees on what they can and can’t recycle. These posters were hung around the building as a reminder- RECYCLE!

If you are interested in checking out our audit, download a copy by clicking here
To see what we did each day, download a copy of our calendar by clicking here.

You can make an impact

In today’s age, everyone should be trying to reduce their waste impact. With landfills filling up and incinerators negative health impacts, not to mention the negative environmental impacts both of those waste disposal options have, we should all be trying to reduce the amount of waste that we put in the trash. Taking the step to reduce the amount of waste you put into the trash sheds light on the importance of conducting a waste audit. Without knowing what is in your trash how can you plan on reducing it? If you have a lot of food waste in your trash, maybe backyard or commercial composting are steps you can take to divert that waste. If you have a lot of food packaging in your waste, like ziploc bags, are there changes you can make to reduce that, like purchasing a reusable food container. Identifying items in your trash and finding their proper waste streams can greatly decrease the amount of trash you have.

Everyone knows the phrase Reduce Reuse Recycle and for good reason. One thing that is important to recognize is that they are listed in order of effectiveness to reduce your waste. Reducing the amount of disposable items you use will prevent you from having to find the correct waste stream for disposing them. Reusing items will ensure that you can get as much use as you can out of a product, preventing you from having to buy any more. Lastly, recycle when you can no longer use something, put it in a waste stream where it can be broken down and converted into something else.


These are all guidelines that you can follow and guidelines that Lube-Tech has decided to take to reduce their waste footprint. With their long term goal being accomplishing zero-waste, we have helped to start that process on ensuring that all of their office waste is disposed of in the proper waste stream. Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard, showing that you can be in the oil and lubricants industry while also moving to ensure that environmental impacts are decreased in places where they have that direct control.

“It was so great to be a part of a project that can directly divert waste from going to landfills or incinerators! Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard; that correctly managing waste in office locations is important and possible.”    

    -Madeline Reed

My dream is to be an environmental management consultant, working with the strategic, analytical, and managerial processes associated with the environmental impact of corporate products and processes. Due to that, I was very pleased to hear that I was placed on this team. It provided me a trial run of my future and only fueled my passion for sustainable business even more!”    

    -Erin Purvis

“Working on this project with my group has been a blast! I was able to apply my knowledge on zero-waste living to something bigger- an oil company! It feels great knowing that the work we did will change the oil industry and the world. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is still a new concept to many, but it’s a growing trend, and we helped it expand even further from our homes.”

    -Taylor Schroeder

“I had such a great time during this internship! I got to meet people of all kinds of backgrounds and work with them to finish an assigned task. This was a great way to test my skills and see how I can contribute the most. My favorite part about the internship was the value of everyone’s opinions. I thought Spark-Y did a great job of making teamwork one of the main priorities.”

    -Max Doty