Student Voice


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Custodial changes raise sustainability discussions

April 11, 2013

Beginning last month, the Custodial Services began replacing old cloth roll towels in restrooms across the UW-River Falls campus.

By the end of March, a total of 68 cloth rolls were replaced with automatic paper towel dispensers in four University buildings.

The old cloth towels were laundered off campus by Ameriprise Services.

Custodial staff complained that the towels were often returned wet and damaged.

“Our real push to get rid of the cloth towels was simply because we were paying for the service and it wasn’t good service,” said Mike Klapatch, assistant custodial supervisor. “There were just a lot of sanitation concerns that we had, and the general response from campus is that they haven’t liked them.”

Klapatch and his colleagues from Custodial Services even went to the UWRF Administration to request funding that last year totaled $10,000.

The funding request was denied, so the custodial staff chose to implement the automatic paper roll towels, a method the group has tested for over two years in the Wyman Education Building.

Understandably, the new paper towel dispensers have increased paper waste in the buildings which they’ve been installed.

In some buildings, the custodial staff has had to empty waste bins three times as often as before the towel dispensers were installed.

In addition, each dispenser runs on four D-cell batteries, raising concerns about sustainability.

“It’s a complex set of trade-offs,” said Director of the Campus Sustainability Working Group Kelly Cain. “The trade-offs come literally in knowing the energy and material end game.”

Those trade-offs: price, time, space and waste, were all determining factors in moving to paper dispensers in restrooms.

Now the Sustainability Group has hinted at working with Custodial Services to create a composting program for the added paper waste. Cain suggested that the paper waste be collected by the custodial staff in separate, marked bins in restrooms across campus, reducing the threat of the custodial staff accidentally getting into other discarded materials.

“First and foremost, our concern is  for our custodial staff,” Cain said.

Cain said that ideally a composting program could be done on campus or at one of UWRF’s two farms. Successful compost programs are already happening at UWRF, like manure composting program at the dairy lab farm.

There is no official plan in place to begin composting the waste paper.

Both the Sustainability Group and Custodial Services have expressed interest in composting, but neither has proposed any concrete plans to the chancellor.

Although a composting plan would work for the waste paper, other sources of waste, like food waste, would also need to be collected to create a rich compost.

“If the sustainability department somehow generates a composting program, whether it be through the food service or other means, we would look to collect paper towels and contribute to that program,” Klapatch said.

For now, Cain said that sustainability will quite literally fall into the hands of students on campus. “It means sometimes when you go to the bathroom, we need to be mindful of how many paper towels we use. We want happy folks on campus in terms of dry hands when they leave the bathroom, but at the same time how do we minimize our resource usage and that seems to be the question at hand here.”