Chipping Towards a Sustainable Future

Spring has arrived early in Rochester! The telling signs are visible all across our campus: birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and grass is no longer buried under multiple layers of snow. Aiding in this transition is the Horticulture and Grounds department, managed by Dan Schied, which is responsible for the upkeep of the natural environment across the 600 plus acres that constitute the U of R campus. In keeping with the University’s commitment to Go Green, Mr. Schied and his colleagues naturally look to make choices in their line of work that positively impact the environment. This fact is perhaps best exemplified in the use of the Bandit Model 65XP wood chipper.

The wood chipper has been put through a substantial amount of activity clearing out dead brush or small trees along the riverbank on Wilson Blvd, on Mt. Hope Avenue, and at the MEES observatory, amongst other places at the University. While it is perhaps seldom noticed by students and staff, it helps contribute towards environmental sustainability in multiple ways.

Before the arrival of the  wood chipper, undesirable brush had to be sawed and hauled to the campus waste storage area where it took up a lot of space volumetrically, as entangled branches proved difficult to compact. Grounds Supervisor, Mike Miller describes the shortage of space as developing into a growing problem at the University over the past few decades, expressing the need to be efficient in how current University-owned areas are utilized.

Not only does brush take up a lot of space on our campus, but also at landfills where it is often transported. Indeed, finding alternatives to sending various materials to our landfills is a key issue today. Consider, for example, that the amount of trash buried in landfills in the United States has doubled since 1960. An estimated 18 billion cubic feet of waste is produced by Americans per year, and as a result developing ways to reduce waste production is a cornerstone of sustainability. The good news is that technology like the Grounds wood chipper, which finely shreds brush into chips, can drastically cut down on waste. Mr. Schied estimates that the chipper reduces the volume of organic waste by at least 75%, and most likely more. Mr. Miller adds that considering the chipper has been in extensive use recently—as much as a few times per week between January and February on average—this adds up to a significant total reduction in volume of waste for this year already.

What’s even better is that in many areas where the chipper is used, such as at the MEES observatory or along the riverbank, it is beneficial to have the finely ground wood chips directly released to the ground. In these areas the brush which needs to be removed is not hauled to any landfill, but shredded and dispersed onsite, where it decomposes quickly. The finely ground wood chips form organic matter which serve as a reservoir of nutrients and water in the soil, aids in reducing compaction and surface crusting, and increases water infiltration into the soil. This is both good for the immediate environment where the chipper is used and also saves fuel use by preventing having to truck brush to dump sites to be stored.

Another striking feature of the chipper is its small size relative to other wood chippers. Shown in the above photo, it is only about the size of a sedan. This means that it requires less fuel than alternative large wood chippers, such as a tub grinder, which may entail costs of around two thousand dollars per day to hire.

While the Grounds department’s use of its wood chipper represents one sustainable approach to forestry at the University, a different more creative approach is being taken by local artists. A prime example of this is the work of Scott Sober. When an 80-year-old beech tree was scheduled for removal at the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG), Gallery Store manager Colleen Griffin-Underhill called Mr. Sober to see if he could possibly make something from the remains of the trunk.  The result of Mr. Sober’s work was a variety of beautifully sculptured bowls. These pieces, varying in size and design are now for sale at the MAG Store, selling for around $170 per bowl. As the photo on the left illustrates, the bowls preserve some of the beauty in the old beech tree at the MAG.

From use of the wood chipper, to the special attention given to historic trees, the choices made by the University demonstrate why it is distinguishable in its sustainable forestry efforts, and a proud member of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA program.