Greenhouse project reaches completion
It’s no secret that the growing season is short and recycling options are limited in the Gunnison Valley. It was at the confluence of these two seemingly unrelated challenges that Ayodeji Oluwalana saw opportunity.
As part of his studies in the Sustainable and Resilient Communities track of the Master of Environmental Management Program at Western State Colorado University, Oluwalana recently completed a 10-foot by 12-foot greenhouse built from clear, plastic bottles that allow light through while at the same time trapping heat.
The intention of the project was to serve as a teaching tool in more ways than one — both showing the potential for re-using a commonly discarded item, as well as a demonstration for anyone interested in building a similar structure.
The concept was born out of Oluwalana’s own experience with poor waste management in his home country of Nigeria. There, due to a lack of effective management practices, bottles are commonly discarded in streets, blocking drainages and leading to floods and erosion.
In the United States, it’s estimated that about 60 million plastic bottles are used daily, and about 38 billion bottles are sent to the landfill each year. To meet the production demand for those vessels, it takes approximately 15-17 million barrels of oil annually — equivalent to the amount of petroleum needed to power 100,000 cars in a single year.
Among the many advantages of re-utilizing plastic bottles to build structures, Oluwalana viewed the project for its ability to improve economic and social conditions — especially in a cold climate.
The greenhouse is currently located at Coldharbour Ranch east of the city, and Gunnison-based Calder Farm will use the greenhouse this coming winter, testing its structural integrity.
Oluwalana estimates the total cost of the project at $1,200-1,400, excluding volunteer time, over about four and a half months. However, he noted that it could be done for less depending upon materials salvaged.
Local builder Steve Schechter also was closely involved in the project.
“I wanted to ensure sustainability of this project, if it did work,” Oluwalana explained. “I wanted a local builder to be knowledgeable on how to build this, in the event I move away from Gunnison.”
Oluwalana also credited the Coldharbour Institute for helping see the project to fruition. The MEM graduate is one of the Coldharbour’s Clark Fellows — a program which financially supports select graduate students in their coursework.
“Our mission incorporates energy efficiency and green building,” said Coldharbour Executive Director Suzanne Ewy. “That’s what this project is all about.”
Ewy noted that the greenhouse will serve as a useful case study at the institute’s Coldharbour Ranch property — especially as Coldharbour begins to serve as a hub for the Savory Institute, which promotes large-scale restoration of grasslands through holistic management.
Oluwalana is working for Western currently, splitting time between custodial services and the position of sustainability coordinator — helping the university reduce the amount of waste generated on campus that’s directed to the landfill.
“I never expected people to accept it the way it was accepted,” Oluwalana said of the greenhouse project. “That kept me going.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)