As part of Earth Day celebrations, this past April 20th, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón hosted the 2nd Green Sagrado event, to announce to the university community and general public the different sustainability initiatives implemented on the Santurce campus. The event was organized by Sagrado's Sustainability Committee, composed by personnel from the Office of Installations, Conservation and Services, GREEN-PR, students from the Exterior Relations Assembly, personnel from the Dean of Students office, Integrated Communications, Academic Affairs, professors from the Interdisciplinary Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies, as well as the Student Council. In the grove behind the Madre María Teresa Guevara Library, better known as La Vega Walkway, student groups, administrative personnel and other organizations met up to showcase their contributions to sustainability initiatives.
The campus, one of 7 GREEN-PR Hubs, a program led by the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center, has installed water fountains designed to easily refill water bottles, thus reducing the use of disposable water bottles. Each fountain has a counting system that shows how many water bottles have been reduced and saved. To date, the new fountains have saved the equivalent of 17,200 single-use bottles from consumption.
All around campus, new containers for recycling paper, aluminum, cardboard and plastic were installed. A campus bulletin reported that 7,260 pounds of recyclable material had been diverted since these new bins were sited in February. In addition, the University also recycled 11,500 lbs of paper.
As you enter the grounds of Sagrado University, you can also find a PR Textile Recycling container, a new addition to the stream of recycling efforts. The container can be used to deposit clothes, shoes and household items such as bed sheets, towels and curtains. To date, a total of 6,548 lbs of textiles have been recycled.
“We are already the lungs of Santurce as we are the area with most green spaces in this sector of the metropolitan area” stated the professor José G. Martínez. “We can be an example with recycling projects, transformation to renewable energy projects and supporting the production of food through the development of a composting area and a local garden.” The Sustainability Committee is currently in the planning stages for projects such as these with the goal to start rolling them out in the next academic semester.
Various members of different associations took the stage to encourage others to continue and expand sustainability initiatives, from the perspective of their respective disciplines. Personal training and fitness students gave examples on how recyclable material can be used as exercise equipment and they highlighted the importance of exercising in green, open spaces. From another angle, the group Staccato, contributed with a musical performance among the trees that celebrated Puerto Rican culture. The event also included an installation depicting the impact of plastic bottles, quizzes on environmental topics, education on electronics recycling, ecotourism, and an orientation on the impact of oil spills by the Medlife university group.
An interactive bulletin board, allowed attendees to respond to the question “What would you do for a greener Sagrado?” Among the answers were the creation of hydroponic gardens, charging stations for electronics using solar energy, design competitions using recyclable materials, workshops on sustainable development and irrigation system for campus plants using rain water.
At the closing of the event, the president of the University, Gilberto Marxuach Torrós, along with the Dean of Academic Affairs, Pedro Fraile, planted a tree, symbolizing the continuation of these projects. As professor Martínez said, “these types of ecofriendly and socioeconomic projects unite us more as a community that contributes to creating solutions to day-to-day problems that we face and are now needed more than ever.”
The second round of the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center’s (SU-EFC) GREEN-PR Program concluded with a graduation ceremony held at the Hacienda Mi Remanso in Caguas, Puerto Rico on October 1, 2016. During the event, GREEN-PR Stewards, Hub Coordinators and mini-grant recipients presented their work on environmental education projects implemented under the program in the last year.
The graduation was facilitated by Stephanie Anderson, Lisa Ruggero, and Kaira Fuentes of the SU-EFC. Welcoming remarks were provided by Carmen Guerrero, EPA Region 2 Executive Director in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Grisell Díaz-Cotto of the EPA, and Weldin Ortiz Franco, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Quality Board. Following the remarks, the graduating Stewards took the stage to present their achievements. Stewards’ projects, which focused on sustainable materials management and green infrastructure education in schools, included the creation of groves, school gardens, and composting systems, as well as organized events such as litter cleanups. One notable achievement was a Steward’s work to establish a grove, school garden, and environmental club at the Julia Cordero Negrón School in Ponce, which ultimately helped prevent its closure by the PR Department of Education.
This year’s GREEN-PR mini-grant recipients also presented what they achieved with their projects, including creation of hydroponic and aquaponic systems, education in colleges about the reduction of plastic bottles, composting education projects, and improvements to school grounds and buildings through green infrastructure.
After the project presentations, in what was an emotional moment for the group, facilitators recognized Stewards and Hub Coordinators with a certificate and a unique plant symbolizing a unique quality that person brought to the group. For example, Israel Rivera Guzmán, from UPR Ponce, was given a pumpkin plant for being someone who would adapt and grow almost anywhere, and Iris Olán Pabón, from the University of Sagrado Corazón, was given the medicinal plant malagueta (allspice) for her helpfulness and commitment. To conclude the ceremony, Gypsy Córdova, President of the Vieques Municipal Assembly, offered a brief message on the connection between nature, internal peace, and environmental education.
After the graduation, the group gathered and ate lunch with a view of the mountains that surround the Hacienda. For the remainder of the afternoon, the Stewards socialized with the rest of the GREEN-PR network as the group enjoyed a guided tour of the natural areas and historical memorabilia at the center, as well as hiking and swimming in the river.
On April 15, 2016, the alternative school and GREEN-PR Hub ASPIRA-Carolina, inaugurated its rain garden as part of the elective course “Green Infrastructure,” sponsored by a GREEN-PR mini-grant. The project was designed and built by the students of the class and with help from other members of the school community that joined as volunteers.
As part of the class, students learned how to conduct residential water audits in order to measure the level of water consumption in their homes, as well as strategies they can implement to reduce water use. They also learned how to calculate the rainwater collection potential of a roof for non-potable uses according to its size and location. Students applied their knowledge by designing a rainwater collection system to water plants in the rain garden.
While building the rain garden, students became familiar with the benefits of this type of green infrastructure, including flood prevention, habitat creation, and the prevention of untreated discharges into our bodies of waters. Students first conducted a percolation test to determine the absorption capacity of the soil, then adjusted this capacity by removing clay soil and adding gravel and sand, which are more permeable. The rain garden, situated in the central green area of the school, now collects rain that was usually discharged by storm drains near the entrance to the school.
As an added benefit, the green area doubles as habitat for plant and animal life. Among the garden’s features are mosquito repellent plants like citronella and lavender. A small pond that harbors aquatic plants is situated on the lower zone of the rain garden, which helps to oxygenate the water. The pond also consists of shrimp that consume decomposing vegetative material and fish as method of biocontrol in case mosquitoes lay eggs on the water. In addition to beautifying school grounds, the rain garden has turned into an urban oasis for different species of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects, including important pollinators like bees.
The Arq. Brenda Martínez served as course professor.
The garden is not the last step for this school community, as they are already working on a green wall with vertical planting and an expansion of the garden, including an area for composting some of the organic materials generated at the school, among other initiatives being led through the science class.
Similar to initiatives taking place at ASPIRA, the UPR Elementary School—also part of GREEN-PR—started a green infrastructure project to remedy an erosion problem caused by bad management of rainwater. The project, led by participants of a summer camp at the school, includes the collection and reuse of rain water, a school garden, and a composting operation. Participants learned about the importance of water and soil quality, as well as the nutrients required to have a healthy environment capable of sustaining life. Projects like the ones in ASPIRA-Carolina and the UPR Elementary School serve as examples and can guide other institutions in Puerto Rico that want to identify ways to improve our environment.
Sixteen graduates received a certificate for completing the Recycling Educators Training led by the PRRP’s Education Committee and the Solid Waste Authority on May 12, 2016. The graduation ceremony took place at the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Authority offices. Participants received training to educate about the conservation of natural resources through recycling, composting, reuse, responsible consumption habits, and environmental education.
In addition to receiving their certificates, the group tuned in for one last lesson on the identification of pollutants in water offered by Cenilda Ramírez Santana, leader of the Education and Trash Free Waters Committees of the PRRP and co-coordinator of the training.
The training began on March 3, 2016, and throughout several weeks, the group learned about environmental problems the Island faces as well as recent recycling techniques and technologies available on the Island. Some of the topics covered include the legal framework of recycling in Puerto Rico, the statistics of recycling on the Island, recycling of electronics and organic materials management. One noteworthy session took place at the regional meeting of EPA’s Trash Free Waters Initiative in Mayagüez, where Marcus Ericksen--, leader of 5 Gyres, an organization that studies and promotes the conservation of our oceans--gave a lecture._
The group was composed of professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions of the Island: educators, engineers, recycling industry professionals, municipal recycling coordinators, and others signed up, all with a desire to educate about Sustainable Materials Management through their respective geographical regions of Puerto Rico. With their expanded knowledge, the educators of recycling are already educating students, the public, and professionals about the importance of reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting, as well on the importance of maintaining trash free waters.
It is widely known that Lajas, Cabo Rojo, and Mayagüez are three first-class tourist destinations in the West, but these towns also host some advanced environmental projects. On March 19, 2016, volunteers from the GREEN-PR Program visited these projects.
The first stop was at the Leonides Morales School, in Lajas, a GREEN-PR environmental education hub. Even on a Saturday, the school was vibrant with the presence of students, parents, and school personnel who were maintaining projects and taking care of plants and vegetation. Professor Ada Miranda, the GREEN-PR coordinator at the school, led a tour of the school composting station and the space for collecting plastic, carton and aluminum for recycling. Several students were working on the compost made from organic materials produced at the school.
Composting is only one part of a larger effort to produce as little waste as possible in the school. The compost is used in landscaping as well as in an orchard on school grounds. Produce from the orchard will eventually be used in the preparation of food in the school cafeteria, reducing food waste packaging from food shipments.
Entrance to the School Orchard
Parents, teachers and students use the compost produced at the school to create more green spaces.
In the hallways and common areas, the students, under the tutelage of the physical education teacher, have painted and installed 147 creative posters and signs to prevent littering and promote recycling. “Nobody talks about your waste, but your waste says a lot about you,” one sign read. Ironically, the sign’s message was perfectly timed as minutes later, students found a soda can from the year 1987 while cleaning. In addition to keeping the school and school grounds clean from litter, the school has a recycling program, with containers for different types of materials and monthly challenges that focus on a specific type of material. “We organize challenges to motivate students. One time, the challenge was to recycle cartons and students brought so much, the piles of cartons reached the roof,” explained professor Alex Ayala about the initiative. “The math teacher then handles the statistics,” added Ayala, about the way sustainable materials management is integrated into the school curriculum. Professor Miranda also explained that the school sells their aluminum cans and use the money to buy snacks for students going on field trips and excursions to complete their Green Contact hours.
Academically, Leonides Morales School is one of the most outstanding in Puerto Rico, with students placing among the highest ranks of the College Board test results. During the visit, the school’s excellence was evident. The school is fully integrated into the community, with teachers committed to alternative methods of education and students that thrive and feel productive.
GREEN-PR Stewards meet with parents, students and teachers from Leonides Morales School in Lajas.
The next stop on the field trip was the Interpretative Center of Cabo Rojo’s Salt Flats, where we were welcomed by Dr. Patrick Reyes, leader of the Caborrojeños Pro Health and Environment Committee. This committee received a mini-grant from GREEN-PR in July 2015. Reyes offered a talk about hydroponic and aquaponic crops, an ecofriendly way of harvesting that produces good quantities without exploiting resources such as scarce water resources. Throughout the presentation, volunteers learned how this system can be built at home, with economical and reused materials. He also presented a barbecue grill that uses solar energy to heat itself and can be easily built at home.
Behind the center, the Committee grows crops in a greenhouse. The stewards saw the assembly and functioning of the crops, from the containers where the plants are to the container that houses tilapia fish. The system processes the fish waste and utilizes it as fertilizer while watering plants in a controlled way. Reyes explained that is important to monitor the water’s ph levels. He fed the tilapia as part of the tour. “These are happy fish,” he mentioned.
Stewards got to touch the salt mountains around the center and went to the top of the observation tower, where you can see seawater turned pink due to a type of bacteria that lives in areas with high salt density. Those that went to the bathroom at the end of the tour found two innovative features: compost toilets that only use a gallon of water per day and a sink that uses rainwater.
The last site on the field trip was the University of Puerto Rico, in Mayagüez, where Professor Sandra Cruz Pol welcomed us to the Ecosolar House. This structure operates solely with the energy produced by the solar panels on the roof. Everything within the house is selected with the goal of reducing impact on the environment and achieving a better quality of life. The paint on the walls does not expel toxic gases, the kitchen utensils are made of durable metals, plates and glasses are either made from glass or porcelain, the floor is made with linoleum and the food cooked there is organic. Professor Cruz Pol spoke to the volunteers about the importance of building in harmony with the environment and how can this have a positive effect on the health of individuals. “This floor is made from linoleum, which is a durable natural material, unlike vinyl, which is highly toxic and has been related to cancer,” she said. Outside the house, Stewards saw the aquaponics grove, a water recollection system under construction, and a green area that will serve as a grove and garden.
Coincidentally, a group of engineering students were working on a boat that runs on solar energy on campus that day. The Stewards were able to watch part of the boat’s assembly and Professor Erick Aponte explained how it will work. The students will participate in competition that will test the efficacy of the boat. The day finished with a brief visit to the 39th edition of the Five Days with Our Earth Agro Educational Fair, where horticulture, animals, artisans, kiosks and agricultural machinery on campus were exhibited.
Because of projects like these, the West is turning into a region where sustainable materials management and environmental education increasingly present. The West is a region that cannot go unseen by those interested in a lifestyle that helps the planet and preserves a good quality of life.
From top left to right: Ana V. Arache (SU-EFC), Melvin Rodríguez Rodríguez (SU-EFC), Soledad Gumar (UPR-RP), Iris Olán Pabón (USC), Alan Figueroa (UPR-P), Génesis Isaac De León (UPR-C/ASPIRA), Stephanie Anderson Morales (SU-EFC). Bottom left to right: Urayoán Walker (Vieques), Jorge Bencosme (UPR-M), Sasha Montañéz (ASPIRA), Israel Guzmán Rivera (UPR-P), Derek Torres Ramos (PUCPR-P) y Pamela Ramos (UPR-M).
Photo above by Maritza González Cintrón
The first training in the second year of the GREEN-PR program was held on Saturday, January 30. Through collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Development Studies of the Metropolitan University (UMET), the training was held in the amphitheater of the UMET in San Juan. The training, titled “GREEN-PR 2.0: Creating Environmental Education Hubs,” focused in large part on the development of environmental education hubs around the island—one of the goals of the GREEN-PR program. Stewards attended from various GREEN-PR hubs in development around the Island, such as Ponce, Lajas, San Juan, Carolina, and other municipalities, to learn more about GREEN-PR core topics of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) and Green Infrastructure (GI), and to hear about activities taking place at other hubs in the network. Former GREEN-PR mini-grant recipients also participated in the training to become more involved in the network. Mini-grant projects are also focused on SMM (recycling, composting, reducing, etc.) and/or GI.
The Architect Fernando Abruña, known as the Father of the Green Building Movement in Puerto Rico, offered an informative and technical talk about green infrastructure, including innovative construction techniques that conserve potable water, make use of rain water, and provide green spaces. The architectural designs presented save natural resources and money without sacrificing occupant comfort. After the presentation, participants took a tour to see the implementation of green infrastructure on campus and generate recommendations to enhance the installations.
Journalist and editor for Revista Atabey, Marielisa Ortiz Berríos, gave a talk about how to gain presence and exposure for environmental issues and initiatives in the media. Berríos explained how environmental groups can attract media exposure on their work and offered tips on effective communication techniques, news writing, and redaction of press releases. Following the formal portion of the training, groups had the opportunity to present their work and get to know each other better.
Observing from the floor level and from high up in the roofs the green infrastructure on campus.
Ada Miranda, teacher and hub leader from Leonides Morales School in Lajas, talked about how students and teachers have been involved in their project, inserting environmental education lessons in different school topics like English, Science and Mathematics. Staff members from the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center (SU-EFC) presented a plan for the development of the network in its second year, as well as a schedule of GREEN-PR activities and requirements for the semester. The training concluded with a visit to one of the hubs, Urban Grove, Greenhouse and Forest of Capetillo, and a stop at the mural painted by GREEN-PR volunteers in summer 2015.
Those interested can access the information presented during the training here.
Members of the GREEN-PR network traveled to the Eastern region of Puerto Rico on February 4, 2016 to visit Plastic Home Products in Maunabo, the only company in Puerto Rico that closes the loop of the the entire recycling process. The company manufactures new products using materials that would otherwise go to a landfill.
Inside the factory, there is a large quantity of various types of plastics bound for recycling, including pre-consumer plastic bottle manufacturing waste, post-consumer beverage bottles and gallon jugs, and even excess medical plastics from pharmaceutical companies. First, the material is shredded and sanitized. The shredded plastic is then melted down and fed into machines that mold the plastic into household items such as buckets, dustpans, “tostoneras” (a tool useful in making tostones, a delicious example of Caribbean cuisine), citrus fruit juicers, garden pots and other containers. Workers then snip off the residual plastic from the molding process and prepare the products for wholesale.
In this factory, pelletized plastics will be turned into new materials, like this sweeping pan.
Recycling and reusing are important parts of the company’s philosophy. The company also cuts waste by reusing any plastic residues from the molding process as well as any products that are defective. The plastic is fed once more into the shredder to become new products. Products are also shipped in reused carton boxes.
The company was the idea and creation of Mr. Juan Pillot, who prepared the building and assembled the machines himself. Most of the machines are also reused or have reused pieces that he salvaged or bought from other factories. Before pursuing his own business venture, Pillot had worked in the pharmaceutical industry with similar machines. Even though the present state of the economy has been a challenge, Pillot believes in the need for this type of industry and in the potential for recycling to generate jobs. He mentioned that although the high cost of electricity is a major challenge his business faces, the company currently employs eight people, some of them part-time.
Here, mop buckets are warm right out of the oven.
After the tour, participants took a tour of the Natural Reserve Punta Tuna Wetland and its surroundings, as well the Maunabo Lighthouse, to learn about community-based environmental protection initiatives. The day concluded with a visit to Ana Roque de Duprey High School, in Humacao, where Tainachí Fernández, recipient of a GREEN-PR mini-grant through Puerto Rico Composta Inc., showed the Stewards one of their composting projects.
Vertical garden made from reused plastic bottles at Ana Roque de Duprey High School in Humacao.
At the high school, science teachers and students have created a composting station that receives compostable materials from the school’s kitchen, as well from students’ and teachers’ homes. Teachers from other subjects have become part of the initiative and have integrated these topics in their curricula. The project is also being expanded into another school project centered on agriculture.
More pictures of our visit to Plastic Home Products in Maunabo.
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