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‘Spudware’ makes debut at NMU

February 22, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Forks and spoons made out of potatoes and cups made out of corn? Such "strange" items can be found in Northern Michigan University's dining halls, according to Art Gischia, NMU's interim director of auxiliary services. "It's an alternative to plastic," Gischia said of the forks and spoons made from potato-based material - called "Spudware" - that are available with orders of take-out food. "They're comprised of 80 percent potato starch and 20 percent soybean oil. It looks like plastic, but it has a different feel to it. It's functional, but it biodegrades as soon as it gets into the landfill." The "greenware" cups are made from corn-based products, are nontoxic, and have half the life of a plastic cup, he added. They only work, however, for cold liquids, Gischia cautioned. The cup's design does not differ much from a regular clear plastic cup, yet the greenware cup's ability to compost 100 percent makes a difference, according to Gischia. Purchasing more environmentally friendly utensils is just one part of the university's ongoing pursuit of becoming more "green" and energy efficient. "It's part of the university's campus wide initiative to become more aware of day-to-day activities and the impact on the environment," Gischia said. "Each small thing we can do, if you multiply this by a 100 that is a 100 times better than in the past." Northern's initiative does not stop with the dishes. "We have implemented a food pulper," Gischia said. "All the waste food and any napkins or jelly containers go through this food pulper, which shreds the material to corn (kernel) size and removes 80 percent of the liquid. It's reducing the amount of product that would end up in the sanitary system." This huge $36,000 food pulper shreds food waste at NMU's Quad I dining services, not only reducing waste but also saving water. The liquid from the food waste and the water used in the pulper is recycled and reused in the machine, Gischia said. NMU also is trying to go green and clean by using more environmentally friendly cleaning products, Gischia said. "We haven't been as successful with the green (cleaning) products," he said. For instance, some environmentally friendly products such as floor strippers are not as durable as conventional products, he said. However, Gischia added that the industry is constantly developing new green products and the university will purchase them as soon as they become available. "The more awareness there is about this, the more demand there is, which means the suppliers become more attentive to fill the need," he said. Gischia and Carl Pace, NMU's associate vice president for business services and facilities, said although some of the more environmentally friendly products -like the pulper - are more pricey than conventional products, they're worth it. "We try to work it in," Pace said. "There are some things that as an institution we have made the decision to do." Gischia said the pulper saves the university money because less garbage ends up at the landfill. Pace added that the university pays $40 for each ton of garbage dropped off at the landfill. "We probably do 350 tons (of garbage) a year," Pace said. "It varies." It remains to be seen if the food pulper can cut that number down.

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