Teacher’s Talk: Sustainability

9202470599_afbe571db3_nOur sustainability class has explored many new exciting things this week. We have discussed topics anywhere from Net-Zero architecture to energy resources to comparing and contrasting differences in American and Chinese cultural responses to sustainability issues.

One activity the students were involved with was collecting all of their own trash in trash bags. As they left class anything they were to throw away (including food) was to be disposed of in a trash bag that they carried around with them. We spent the next day sorting our trash into what could be recycled, food waste and what was simply waste destined for the landfill.


Our class was privileged to collaborate with the Chinese VAMPY course here at WKU.  We enjoyed listening to guest speakers discuss the Chinese culture and how they are sustainable.  We learned how we can use herbs for medicine, from Dr. Yin, who also shared about use of acupuncture as a technique for pain management.  Most of our students were a bit squeamish about the needles. Aloma Dew from the Sierra Club spoke about some of the environmental issues affecting China, as the country has entered a heavily industrialized growth phase.

We have been on a few other field trips since our last blog post. The first place we visited was to the Ohio County Balefill. This was a shocking sight to see for the students. It was simply a mountain of trash – literally! We actually got to drive to the top of this mountain of trash, which is currently over 120 feet high. We saw trucks dumping everything from wood and plastic to a medical truck dumping needles and gauze.  The students learned the process managing bulk waste at a balefill, how they deal with off-gassing of methane from decomposing materials and safely handle run-off water.  The amazing thing was that they cover the mountain with grass and soil so it does not even look like trash until you get to the top of the “mountain.”


The second visit we made was the TVA’s Paradise Fossil Fuel Plant.  All of the kids had to wear white Tyvek suits (if they didn’t have on long pants), hardhats, earplugs, and protective glasses.  They loved their new ensembles – until they realized how HOT the suits were once we entered the steam plant.  Although our visit lasted over three hours, we were able to see but a small section of this massive plant.  We got to meet and talk to the workers in the command center, we saw coal being burned in gigantic burners, discuss the production of energy, and learn about some of the environmental controls the plant has implemented. The plant burns 22,000 tons of coal every single day and employs almost 400 people. I think one of the most interesting things we learned was that the men in the command center work 12-15 hours swing shifts where they must monitor hundreds of screens and panels linked to all functions of each of the three power units at the plant to keep everything functioning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year…otherwise our electricity goes out! The only breaks they took were restroom breaks – they even ate at their desks.  They said that they generally had to react and respond to any issues within a 10-15 minute window to avoid major negative consequences.  It was shocking to us all.

The most recent trip we took was a tour of Western Kentucky University with the office of Sustainability.  We saw many behind-the-scenes aspects of WKU that most people do not get to see.  We saw where WKU used to burn coal for heat but no longer does – now they are using natural gas burners.  We saw how the WKU pool is heated by solar panels, learned about WKU being a Tree Campus USA, and the rule of thumb of needing a 10 year return on investment (ROI) to justify decisions.

We are beginning to do research on independent projects and going on another field trip next week.  We are having great discussions and the students, as well as the teachers, are having an amazing time.

Stephanie (Teacher Assistant)