Thanks to a new service-learning project at the Evergreen Heritage Center in Mount Savage, Md., the phrase “the call of nature” will take on a whole new meaning for students, educators and residents in the local community who are interested in environmental education. The project, “Green Restrooms, Green Learning,” is bringing a special composting toilet, complete with environmentally friendly landscaping, solar-powered fans and educational outreach materials, to the center.
“Green Restrooms, Green Learning” was made possible by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and partner contributions from Frostburg State University, the FSU Foundation, Inc., the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and the Evergreen Heritage Center Foundation. FSU, DJS and the center are also uniting in their efforts to turn the facility’s construction into an experiential learning opportunity and “green collar” job skill-building experience for FSU and DJS students. The restroom is tentatively scheduled to open to the public in mid-April.
“Most people do not realize the magnitude of the stress we put on the environment each time we visit the restroom,” said Dr. Sunshine Brosi, an instructor and coordinator of FSU’s ethnobotany program. “Some of the main environmental impacts are on use of our natural resources, particularly water and trees.”
The new restroom facility, a Clivus M54 double, will use two composter bases that will convert human body products into odor-free and safe-to-handle compost and liquid fertilizer for beneficial use at EHC. After five years of operation, the restroom is anticipated to generate about four bushels of compost per year, which can be raked into the lawn or used as fertilizer around bushes or trees.
Brosi, Dr. Craig Caupp, an associate professor in the FSU Geography Department, and Dr. Daniel Fiscus, an assistant professor in the FSU Biology Department, are supervising a graduate student, two undergraduate students and one work-study student from FSU who are designing and creating learning materials and signage for the facility, verifying its correct operation of environmental and energy conversation technology, assisting in finishing and landscaping the site for sustainability and preparing a report describing the features and benefits of the solution relative to environmental conservation and renewable energy.
FSU ethnobotany students are carefully selecting plants for landscaping around the “green restroom” that remove pollutants and other unwanted chemicals from the soil. The process, known as phytoremediation, will be highlighted through the use of displays and plant identification markers.
“Phytoremediation ties into the most basic concept of ethnobotany, the relationship between people and plants. It can be used to clean up toxic waste sites, but also clean our own waste from soils,” Brosi said. “In addition, the plants were selected from species that require no watering and can survive periods of drought. This is another focus of the ‘green restroom,’ reducing water waste through the use of the composting toilet.”
Displays on view will also remind Evergreen Heritage Center visitors about the environmental impact of using the bathroom.
“For example, the average person uses 50 rolls of toilet paper a year, which calculates to five entire trees. In a lifetime, a person will use 4,000 rolls, or 385 trees, a football field of trees,” Brosi said. “These facts can educate people in a way that is relatable. Because sustainable toilets do not use water, the need for a septic system is eliminated, and by switching from a regular toilet to a composting toilet, a person will save around 6,600 gallons of water a year. The end product of the composting process also provides beneficial nutrients that can in turn be used in farming and gardening to improve the soil.”
The “Green Restrooms, Green Learning” project is also structured so that FSU and DJS youth work together as an experiential, service-learning team to develop a sustainable solution that will benefit the area. DJS’ students are responsible for assembling the restroom kit with oversight and assistance from FSU and the center, and for finishing the facility and landscaping the site.
“Service places our students within a community of like-minded people, outside of themselves, to experience empathy,” said Mike Lewis, principal of the Youth Centers for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. “This project will provide an excellent opportunity for our students to work with and understand the staging required to build a solar compost facility. … Students will have opportunities to learn how these skills will translate into the green economy. … For DJS, the project provides a unique academic, vocational and spiritual project that demonstrates our students’ willingness to become agents of change in their communities.”
To learn more about the “Green Restrooms, Green Learning” project, contact the Evergreen Heritage Center at 301-687-0664.
Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg is raising badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Gifts support student enrichment, academic enrichment and regional and cultural enrichment. For more information about supporting FSU, visit foundation.frostburg.edu or call 301-687-4161 or 1-866-241-3296, toll free.