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Grounds Services brings sustainable practices to campus

July 21, 2008

Fish emulsion and compost tea used for fertilizer. Lawn mowers with mulching decks. Organic pest control. Three-wheeled bicycles for staff to ride across campus.

What’s next for Grounds Services?

The answer is solar-powered carts, according to Ellen Newell, the assistant director of Grounds Services. The carts are on order and should be arriving by mid-July.

What has prompted the staff to start looking at all its practices and try to make them more sustainable?

“It’s President Crow’s emphasis on sustainability, Gov. Napolitano’s executive order banning blowers and requiring that less polluting equipment be purchased and used, my own personal feelings on sustainability, feelings from a number of Grounds leadership personnel, and last but not least, often sustainable work practices are more economical,” says Newell.

One of the first practices inaugurated by Grounds Services was to switch to mowers with mulching decks, as old mowers were replaced.

Mulching decks are areas on the mowers where grass clippings are cut up several times and then dropped back on the grass.    

“We started leaving the clippings on the lawn the fall of 2004 when I came to ASU,” says Newell. “The mowers we have purchased since then have mulching decks. The advantage of leaving the clippings on the lawn is that they add organic matter back to the soil and also nutrients.

“The only time clippings would be removed is if the lawn is not mowed for some reason and gets very long. The clippings then might be unsightly and would be removed and composted. If a lawn is mowed properly, you hardly notice the clippings even with a regular deck on the lawnmower.

“We used to send all of our green waste – about 12 tons per month – to the landfill. Now all the green waste goes to Ken Singh, who owns a farm in Scottsdale and makes compost out of it. That saves the $69.95 a ton that we used to pay for hauling it to the landfill.”

The fish emulsion and organic compost teas, used for fertilizer, also come from Singh. While Singh buys the fish emulsions in Canada, he makes the compost tea at his farm, Newell says.

“The compost tea is made from the liquid that drains from the compost pile during the digesting.”

When the order came to ban blowers, Grounds Services invited a broom salesman to visit ASU with samples, and “we let the groundskeepers choose the ones they specifically wanted,” Newell adds.

Grounds Services also is looking at IPM – integrated pest management – which means that pests are not exterminated unless their numbers are high enough that they are doing damage.

“We have lined up several options for moving bee swarms rather than killing them. We are working with the trade shops at sealing small holes in buildings where rats, bats or other vermin enter,” Newell says.

“We also work with building occupants to keep their areas free from food waste or wrappers that attract pests. When we need to use chemicals, we use the least toxic to the environment.”