BC’s Grounds Crew’s Secret Sustainability Initiative

The Office of Sustainability were thrilled to find out about some sustainability ideas being brought to fruition right here on our BC campus. Many students pass by our grounds crew every day; the team with the bright fluorescent vests driving throughout our campus each day. These often-unnoticed faculty in our BC community are humble heroes, quietly building our campus’ natural ecosystem, tactfully maintaining the landscapes between buildings.

Maintaining campus shrubs, trees, and lawns creates thousands of pounds of yard waste each quarter. In past years, these plant materials would be hauled away by specialized waste management companies who carry off any unwanted yard materials to be decomposed and resold for profits. BC’s grounds team had an idea.

Nate Yates, Bellevue College’s Building and Grounds team supervisor, along with Cynthia Gross, Director of Facilities and Operations sought to find solutions to some of our campus waste. They wanted to create a more efficient system that would allow our campus to utilize our own personal waste, a system where daily trimmings, grass clippings, and fallen tree limbs could be collected and stored away to allow for natural decomposition.

Composting is a controlled process of decomposition of organic material. Naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the material into humus. It is a beneficial and inexpensive way to handle organic waste, repurposing the waste back into the local ecosystem and keeping utilities costs down. After a visit to a local commercial composting facility; the team were ecstatic to get the ball rolling on a campus-wide composting program. As the project’s specific details emerged however, the complexities of adjusting campus operations to meet the required needs was enough to put the composting project on hiatus for the meantime.

Although the initial pitfalls held the team from purchasing an actual industrial composting bin, the group decided to confront the situation head-on by piloting a small-scale yard waste composting program of their own. “How much of what we’re wasting everyday can actually be reused?” was the simple question lead supervisor Nate Yates asked his team. Nate’s own habits in his personal life he says has had an influence on this project, although he has no formal education in environmental science or sustainability. Over the past few quarters, BC’s grounds crew have taken an extra effort to change our campus operations; evolving ground workers into composting masters, plant biologists, and environmental activists.

Throughout campus, composting piles of different yard waste are hidden in spaces where most students would never notice. The back of Lot 5 for example, near the roundabout, is home to a healthy pile of leaves which are rapidly decomposing into very nutrient-rich soil in time. Leaves, which are swept from sidewalks throughout campus, could easily be tossed away, yet BC is using this waste to help build a better campus environment.

Branches and any fallen trees are also repurposed. Large wood-chippers shred limbs to small wood-chunks, which break down easier. The chips also provide a great bedding layer for plant beds as we enter the spring season and begin the annual flower planting around campus. Both materials are hotbeds for bacteria, billions in fact, which inhabit the surface of every lead and blade of grass. These critters feed off both the nitrogen and carbon present in plants. Brown, woody materials or autumn leaves are high in carbon, while greener, moist materials such as grass clippings are higher in nitrogen. As both piles at BC break down, the combination of soils will provide a nutrient-rich spread without costing BC extra money on materials.

The Office of Sustainability applauds the work of our grounds crew! Bellevue College strive to adapt and progress students to the changing needs of our world, and we’re thrilled to find local students and faculty in our community taking the extra effort to support our movement and foster a more impactful and aware campus.


Want to get involved on campus with a sustainability project? Contact our Communications Coordinator at: christian.moore@bellevuecollege.edu. The Office of Sustainability provide a number of opportunities, events, internships, and more for those interested. Find out today how you can start making a difference!

Last Updated November 30, 2015