Brennan Bird is collecting trash to build a symbol of sustainability – a bench made of waste and clay.
Along with four other students, Bird is constructing a bench entirely of Portable Landfill Devices as part of a community and regional development directed group study (CRD 198) that is helping to develop the Sustainable Living Learning Community (SLLC).
“This project represents a symbolic commitment to sustainable research and experiential education on campus,” the senior nature and culture major said. “By saving their trash and turning it into a building resource, students are forced to study their own lifestyle decisions and learn how to take responsibility for lessening their impact on the earth.”
The endeavor that started off as an in-class experiment is now aiming to become a campus-wide reality for sustainability awareness.
“A lot of times these ideas on sustainability are focused on developing countries, but we have the same problem locally with trash. This technology is just as relevant here as it is in a developing country,” Bird said.
The main building blocks of the bench are Portable Landfill Devices (PLDs) – plastic bottles filled with trash, but more specifically, plastic-film trash.
“The main issue with trash is plastic film, so turning the plastic film into a resource is essential to the goal of zero waste,” said Samantha Lubow, a sophomore community and regional development major and one of the five students working closely with Bird on the project.
The trash is stuffed and then compressed until there is no air space left. These bottles will act as eco-bricks and lay the foundation of the bench.
The other necessary component of the bench is cob – a mixture of clay subsoil, sand, water and straw. Cob will be used as earth-based cement and is essential for the structural stability as well as the longevity of the bench.
“The optimal mixture will be to create a cob bench whose quality and durability can continue to be studied into the future,” Bird said in an abstract to be submitted for the Undergraduate Research Conference in April.
The ultimate goal of the project is about education and student involvement. Student participation is critical to the collection of the trash and the physical production of the PLDs. Consequently, students gain the opportunity to learn about sustainability and waste management in a pragmatic way, Bird said.
“The project is about experiential learning; the intention is to let the students learn by doing,” said Dr. Frank Loge, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and sponsor of the project.
By making students collect, clean and stuff their trash, Bird is hoping that the students become aware of the waste they produce. He is also hopeful that the process will open students’ eyes to alternative ways of utilizing trash.
Students partaking in the project have already felt the effects.
“Regardless of how conscious I was of the waste system, having the actual trash put before my eyes made me more aware of how much garbage I was actually producing,” said William Roberts, senior international relations major. “Having to put in the effort to collect and clean my trash has made me more careful of what I consume. The eco-brick provokes reuse and reduction.”
Bird, along with the rest of his team, will present the results of the project in the Undergraduate Research Conference in April.
“My hope is that someone will go to a different country and think about this idea, and they will introduce it in another place. But it starts with us first,” he said.
To get involved or contribute trash, contact Bird at email@example.com.
AMIR BEGOVIC can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.