FAQ

General Sustainability Questions

Thanks for your interest! Check out Planet Blue’s Get Involved page for opportunities ranging from student groups to workplace initiatives to becoming a Planet Blue Ambassador. Reach out to planetblue@umich.edu if you have further questions.

If extra water bottles are available, OCS is happy to provide one. We ask that in order to receive a replacement bottle you take the time to complete the Planet Blue Ambassador training. If you are already a Planet Blue Ambassador, please email planetblue@umich.edu.

First, talk to the facility manager for your building or department. (Let us know if you need help identifying who to reach out to.) Then, refer to the Bottle Refill Station Guide for step-by-step instructions.

All chemical, radioactive, biological, and universal waste (batteries, light bulbs, ballasts, and e-waste) must be collected by EHS Hazmat. Call (734)-763-4568 for assistance.

Based on life cycle analysis, electric hand dryers have lower carbon dioxide emissions (and lower cost) than paper towel dispensers. At U-M, the decision to install hand dryers or paper towel dispensers should take into account the type of building occupancy and function, the preference of the building management, input from Custodial Services and Maintenance perspectives, and the associated costs and environmental impact. If installing a paper towel dispenser, a controlled-release dispenser is more sustainable than multi-fold towels or towels dispensed by user-controlled lever.

Waste Reduction

Look up specific items in our Where to Throw app. If we haven’t answered your question there, email recycle@umich.edu and we’ll help you out!

For recycling and landfill bins, submit a work order via the Facilities Service Center. For compost bins, email zerowaste@umich.edu.

Recycling and composting options vary by location. Please email recycle@umich.edu with your specific location information.

Also, this video from Sustainable Living Experience students will show you how to get a City of Ann Arbor compost bin (if you live off-campus in Ann Arbor) and make a  DIY compost bucket for use at home.

Unfortunately, the university’s recycling facility partner, Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, no longer accepts glass for recycling. The market for glass is very poor, with no manufacturer who wants to purchase old glass to make something new. This is why it is so important for all of us to purchase items that contain recycled content. When people buy recycled-content items, there is an incentive for companies to use recycled content in their products. As the demand for recycled content increases, recycling facilities are able to not only sell the material they collect, but can often also make enough money to reduce what customers (like U-M) have to pay for the recycling service.

Since the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority’s recycling facility isn’t designed for tours, these can be hard to schedule. If you are interested in scheduling a tour for a class, please email recycle@umich.edu at least four weeks in advance of your requested date.

Empty shipping boxes are located at your loading dock. They come with pre-addressed postage-paid labels, so there is no cost to you. When you have filled a box with empty pipet tip boxes, seal and take it to your UPS pick-up station. For more information, contact sustainable-labs@umich.edu.

Email Sustainable-Labs@umich.edu about broken equipment. If you have usable equipment, chemicals, or other lab materials that you no longer need, considering donating them to the ChEM Reuse Program.

We do not plan to host future e-waste recycling events. Cities and townships provide e-waste recycling throughout the year. Local options for the responsible recycling of electronics include:

For tips on recycling your e-waste at other times, see the EPA website.

We typically cannot provide compost collection service to off-site locations. However, we are happy to work with groups to reduce the waste associated with their event in other ways. In some instances, if the event is close to campus, we can provide compostable bag liners so that the hosting group may take collected material to a nearby existing compost collection cart.

Composting is the natural process by which organic materials (e.g. food waste, yard waste, plants, etc.) decompose into a nutrient-rich soil amendment known as compost. The difference between composting and natural decomposition is that composting is purposefully managed. A banana peel thrown on the ground will decompose, but will not create compost. However, the same peel placed with other organic material in a pile will break down into compost.

There are three common types of composting:

Aerobic composting: This is the type of composting that occurs in backyard compost piles, other outdoor composting operations and certain enclosed composting systems (often called “in-vessel composters”). Organic matter is broken down by bacteria naturally found in the soil. The term “aerobic” means that this process requires oxygen (just like aerobic exercise!). Specifically, the bacteria that decompose the material require oxygen to do their job. 

Aerobic compost piles must be occasionally turned or stirred up to ensure that the bacteria are getting the oxygen that they need to break down the organics without producing bad odors. If an aerobic composting operation isn’t managed properly, the compost pile will “go anaerobic,” begin creating methane and STINK!

Anaerobic composting: This is the type of composting that occurs in enclosed composting systems called “digesters” or “anaerobic digesters.” Organic matter is broken down by anaerobic bacteria, meaning that the bacteria work without oxygen. These systems are kept enclosed for two reasons: the presence of oxygen can be better managed indoors and one of the byproducts of this process is methane, an odorous gas. While anaerobic composting smells terrible, the methane can be used as a fuel source.

Vermicomposting: This is a type of aerobic composting that relies heavily on worms (instead of just bacteria) to break down the organic matter. One of the benefits of this system is that it can be done indoors. “Vermi” is Latin for “worm” and a vented bin with some shredded paper, food waste and worms is all that is required to begin a vermicomposting system.

No. Uh-uh. Not on your life. Here’s a great video explanation of the difference between compostable and biodegradable. Well, biodegradable is still good for the earth because these items break down in a landfill, right? That’s what the vendor told me… WRONG! Landfills< are designed to prevent items from breaking down.
U-M partners with WeCare Organics, the private operator of the City of Ann Arbor’s compost site. Once compostable material is collected from loading docks by Waste Management Services, it is taken to the city’s compost site. It is then mixed with yard waste and formed into long piles, known as windrows, where air can circulate and aid in the aerobic decomposition process. After the material has fully decomposed, the finished compost is tested to assess its potential as a fertilizer or soil amendment. Composted food waste does not typically come back to campus. The majority of our compost needs are served by the compost generated from U-M yard waste at our Grounds facility. Occasionally, we need to purchase additional compost from WeCare Organics, so there is a chance that it contains food waste from U-M. However, as the Ann Arbor compost site accepts organics from so many places, we can’t guarantee it.

Contamination is the primary reason all food waste is yet to be collected for composting on campus. Contamination is a HUGE concern when it comes to the composting process. While many assume that diverting waste to compost is just like recycling, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Here at U-M, we send our mixed recyclables to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted, baled and sold. It’s important to keep non-recyclables out because they damage the machines and can reduce the quality of a batch enough that it may have to be landfilled, but sorting does help with some contamination. 

Compostables, however, are not sorted. Since compost sites typically deal with yard waste, there hasn’t been a need to sort the incoming material. As a result, any non-compostable items mixed in remain that way through the composting process and result in compost with bits of trash in it. No one wants to buy compost with trash in it to put on their crops, garden, etc. As a result, we need to ensure that there is no contamination in the food waste we send to the compost site.

Collecting contaminant-free (“clean”) compostables is relatively simple in places like prep kitchens, dining halls and catering operations where trained staff are the ones deciding where the waste should go. In areas where the campus community is generating compostables, like coffee shops, cafes, and events, avoiding contamination becomes much more difficult.

 

Energy
You can find this info and much more in the annual reports published by Utilities.

We are currently working to upgrade lighting systems across campus. For many years, we felt that the technology in LED products on the market was not sufficient for our needs. Longevity, compatibility, and consistency were our largest concerns. The industry has developed and we now feel confident in the available lighting solutions. Now the challenge is to prioritize the buildings. The cost of installing LEDs across campus is high and our regular project budget will not allow us to do this changeover quickly.

Having windows open is almost always less efficient than the HVAC. The university HVAC systems filter, dehumidify, and temper outside air provided to the building spaces. Opening the window allows unconditioned outside air in and can work against the HVAC. Even if the temperature outside feels right, it still needs to be filtered and/or dehumidified, causing the HVAC system to work harder to compensate. An open window can also allow pests like insects and mice into the building.

If your space feels uncomfortable and is not maintaining the room thermostat setpoint (plus or minus more than 2 degrees), the HVAC system may need repair. Notify your facility manager or contact Facilities Service Center (734-647-2059 or FO-Service-Center@umich.edu) to have the issue addressed.

Lighting occupancy sensors are great at acting as our steward when we forget to turn off the lights. However, it is best to turn off the lights yourself. Otherwise they will stay on for 20-30 minutes after everyone leaves.

Some lighting controls have an auto-on feature as a convenience. You may wonder: will turning off the light screw up the auto-on feature when someone reenters the room? The worst that can happen is that turning off the light temporarily disables auto-on. The next occupant would need to switch on the light manually, which re-enables the auto-on feature. When in doubt, turn the light out!

Occupancy sensors use infrared and/or ultrasonic sensors to detect whether someone is present. If the sensor’s field of view is not calibrated to cover the entire space, the sensor may not register that someone is in the space and will therefore turn off the lights. The sensor may have failed or may need to be calibrated. If you experience a problem with your lighting controls, please notify your facility manager or contact Facilities Service Center (734-647-2059 or FO-Service-Center@umich.edu) to have the issue addressed.

Room-level HVAC controls continuously operate to maintain the room thermostat setpoint. The system controls do not look at the difference between room temperature and thermostat setpoint. Instead, the system controls operate in two modes: setpoint satisfied or setpoint not satisfied. When the system setpoint is not satisfied, the controls modulate to add more cold air or warm air to drive the room toward the setpoint. The system will continue to modulate until the setpoint is reached.

Setting the thermostat really high or really low typically results in the room overshooting the desired temperature. It is recommended that room thermostats be set between 68°F and 76°F. When a room feels uncomfortable, adjust the thermostat in small (1° or 2°) increments.

Your home furnace operates intermittently and turns on when the temperature in the home is a degree or two away from its thermostat dial setpoint. The furnace operates in either heating or cooling mode to satisfy the home’s thermostat setpoint.

The Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system at the university operates continuously, providing filtered, dehumidified, and tempered air (typically near 55°F) to building spaces. Then, the individual room thermostat operates to modulate the amount of air and any additional heat that maybe required to maintain the room thermostat setpoint (typically near 72°F).

You can use blinds to keep your space more comfortable and conserve energy. In the summer, completely lower the blinds then adjust the slats to allow for the desired amount of natural light. The more the blinds are closed, the better they are at reducing the solar heat gain because they reflect some of the solar radiation (heat) away from the room.

In the winter, open the blinds on southern facing windows to allow the solar radiation to enter the space, helping to keep the space warm. When the sun is down, keeping the blinds closed creates an extra barrier that helps keep heat in. To retain even more heat, close curtains or drapes in the winter.

Learn more at energy.gov/energysaver/energy-efficient-window-treatments.

Fume hoods continually exhaust room air to remove any hazardous chemicals from the hood, keeping occupants safe. To maintain the proper room pressurization, outside air is conditioned (filtered, dehumidified, cooled or heated) and continually supplied to the entire space to offset the air that is being exhausted by fume hoods. The continuous exchange of air is energy intensive because the HVAC system must run continuously.

Most fume hoods exhaust more air when the sash is fully open, which means the room requires more conditioned air to offset the exhaust. Therefore, keeping the fume hood sash closed when not in use reduces energy use.

Note: energy use varies by fume hood type. Bypass fume hoods consume energy at a near-constant rate, regardless of sash position. Even though closing the sash on a bypass hood doesn’t save energy, for safety it’s always wise to keep the sash closed when not in use.

Water usage has a direct impact on energy consumption because energy is required to treat and distribute water. By reducing water usage, water distribution systems can treat and pump less water. Conserve water to conserve energy!