MU strives for a more sustainable campus


The walkway next to Schroeder Hall usually smells of boiled pasta, marinara sauce and greasy carbs. But for a brief time every Tuesday and Friday, that scent is replaced with the scent of cantaloupe rinds, coffee grounds and pineapple skins — the smell of compost.

The smell is relatively new, as campuswide composting began just short of a year ago thanks to the efforts of some West Coast underclassmen.

“In Seattle, composting isn’t even a second thought,” said Max Bertellotti, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. “I was a little thrown off when I saw that wasn’t the case here.”

Bertellotti began working to expand Marquette’s composting program in the fall of 2012. The program, which began only in Straz, now includes all university dining halls.

This is just one example of the campuswide efforts to make Marquette more sustainable.

Bertellotti, accompanied by sophomores Allie Wenman and Michael Corr, and junior Travis Smith, brought their idea to Mike Whittow, Marquette’s sustainability officer. Whittow told the students the concept was presented before, but never with success because a viable sponsor never committed.

The students did some research and found Growing Power Inc., an urban-based agricultural organization. Growing Power confirmed they would pick up all of Marquette’s pre-consumer waste – anything discarded before it was ready for consumer use – such as carrot peels and coffee grounds.

“After finding Growing Power and getting Sodexo on board, the rest was done by administration,” Bertellotti said. “The contract was signed in November and went into effect after Thanksgiving Break of 2012.”

Pre-consumer composting accounts for about 30 percent of waste that can be composted, according to Josh Knox, a clinical assistant professor and master composter.

In the spring 2013 semester alone, more than 40,000 pounds of waste was composted, saving the university approximately $1,800 since January 2013.

Compost, however, is just one part of the story.


Marquette established its recycling program in 1992, which may come as a surprise to some students.

“I always see the recycling bins, but people have told me they are also trash cans because they’ve seen workers throw the recycling into the trash,” said Danielle Dunn, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences. “I still recycle, but it seems like a waste if Marquette doesn’t actually recycle it.”

Dunn’s opinion is a common suspicion of students, which may, to an extent, be true. Here’s why: If students dump their non-recyclable trash with recyclables together in the closest dumpster to the door, the entire recycling bin is contaminated.

“We just don’t have the staff to separate entire bins, so when we see contamination, it all becomes trash,” said Jerry Kohn, recycling liaison for residence halls. “That’s probably where the students’ misconception comes in.”

Making students more aware of this is one of the most challenging parts of the job for Whittow and his sustainability team. Students may have noticed some of the initiatives made by Whittow’s team, which includes the signs posted in every dorm outlining what can and cannot be recycled.

The sustainability crew also provided each dorm with both a trash and recycling bin. Each floor of each academic building has a designated area for recycling.

Perhaps the most substantial initiative, however, was the switch to single-stream recycling in 2009. This made it easier on students because no sorting is required. One bin is used for all recyclables.

This switch not only made recycling more accessible; it also increased the percentage of recycled material from 19.5 percent in 2009 to almost 32 percent by 2012. The Office of Sustainability’s goal is to attain a 50 percent waste diversion — meaning 50 percent of Marquette’s waste will be recycled — by 2015.


Recycling is not the only enterprise developed by the Office of Sustainability, a department established only six years ago in 2008.

New buildings on campus such as Eckstein and Engineering Hall are built with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. McCabe is the only residence hall to receive this certification, but Rick Acuri, associate dean of administration, said as new dorms will be built in the future, LEED certification will be a priority in the planning process.

On top of these initiatives, smaller — yet still substantial — efforts impacted both energy and water conservation. Hallways began to be dimmed late at night. Light bulbs were upgraded to compact fluorescents. Most dining halls went tray-less three years ago. Low-flow showerheads were installed in the residence halls.

In addition, dining halls that provide to-go containers switched from paper to plastic this fall. The change occurred because the only facility that could recycle the paper to-go containers is in Eau Claire, WI. The new containers are 100 percent recyclable, although food waste must be washed out before recycling to prevent contaminating other recyclables.

Whittow said he hopes to debut a re-usable to-go container that students would return after use. His office is working with the health department to get approval, but Whittow said he would like this to happen by next semester.

“I follow what Mike Whittow prescribes,” Acuri said. “And it seems to be working.”

Whittow said there is still much left to do, despite all the Office of sustainability has already done.

Another possibility for Marquette is post-consumer composting, which includes uneaten food, paper napkins, fruit skins, bones in meat, utensils and food packaging like the paper that wraps sub sandwiches.

For post-consumer composting to happen, Marquette would need to buy a pulverizer and dryer, costing about $120,000 per dining hall, according to Acuri.

But it is not just expensive equipment needed to make post-consumer composting a reality.

“That type of composting requires students to be held accountable because sorting is involved,” Knox said. “There would need to be a college culture of separating your banana peel from your napkin.”


Just over a week ago, David Mullins, a junior in the College of Engineering, switched his major from civil to environmental engineering. His passion for the environment is illustrated by his tenure as president of Students for an Environmentally Active Campus last year.

The group, though comprised of only 15 regularly active members, has an email listing of more than 500 students.

Founded in 1989, the organization’s purpose is to both promote sustainability and analyze the environmental problems on campus. Besides a full slate of Earth Week events, SEAC is best known for their “Don’t Dump, Donate” campaign, which was put on during move-out week of last year. Large boxes are placed inside residence halls and apartments to corral any unwanted food, clothing and furniture, which then was donated to charity.

SEAC’s current focus is on their “Take Back the Tap” initiative, which aims to eliminate all plastic water bottles on campus. Some obstacles with this project include a lack of funds to supply the refill water bottle stations and contract issues with Pepsi. Nevertheless, Mullins said he is optimistic that SEAC’s goal will be achieved by the end of this academic year.

Although the campuswide composting was not initiated by SEAC, Bertellotti and his friends presented their work to the club, but eventually took the idea to administration themselves.

“I like the work that SEAC does and I like the people,” Bertellotti said. “It just worked out logistically to do this with their support, but not their name because they had their own projects going.”


A glance around the exterior of campus shows how far Marquette has come in terms of sustainability. But inside the classroom is where Marquette is pioneering a novel major: global ecology.

“So many schools have an environmental studies major within their respective college of sciences,” said Jame Schaefer, a professor in the theology department who is spearheading the process. “But we have developed an interdisciplinary major that encompasses all fields.”

After conducting more than 60 meetings during the spring and summer of 2012, Schaefer said she found faculty from every single college at Marquette, even the Law School and School of Dentistry, eager to collaborate on courses that blend each respective field with ecology.

The global ecology major will include three different concentrations for students to pursue: scientific discovery and innovation, policy and advocacy, or sustainability and entrepreneurship. Some limited field experience may be provided through the Office of Sustainability, but field courses would be taught at places like the Urban Ecology Center and UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. 

This proposed mutual collaboration should “position Marquette in better standing with donors who are willing and eager to advance the greater Milwaukee community as a hub for research, teaching, and action on freshwater concerns,” according to Schaefer’s proposal.

MUSG unanimously approved a recommendation for the establishment of this major in May 2013, and it is now being considered by the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. The plan is to have the proposal to the Provost’s Office by the end of this academic year or early next academic year.


Marquette’s efforts to become sustainabile seems to be working, with evidence that the university was a “Green College” by the Princeton Review last April. This marks the fourth year in a row that Marquette received this distinction.

Though Marquette is finally being recognized as an ecological institution, Knox said there is still so much more to be done.

“As petroleum prices continue to rise, change will occur out of necessity,” Knox said, pulling out a map of the world. “Those who contribute the most pollution like America will be the least impacted.”

Knox then pointed to a Marquette poster tacked to one of his office walls, which read “Be the difference.”

“That’s our motto,” he said. “So let’s adhere to it.”