Andersen AFB aids research, helps students turn mulch into master's degrees

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melissa B. White
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight have been aiding a team at the University of Guam with a research project this year, strengthening the base's community ties from the ground up with something as simple as mulch.

Mohammad Golabi, a UOG associate professor of soil and environmental sciences, first reached out to the base last fall, seeking mulch for a composting project. The idea was first cultivated in a friendship between the professor and a hiking acquaintance who was also a student, Joe Vinch, a 36th CES deputy base civil engineer. Vinch later suggested the possibility of free base resources that would benefit both parties.

"I thought, 'Why not?'" said Russell Grossley, the 36th CES Environmental Flight acting chief. "It's great because it helps us decrease the amount we're storing at the landfill, which could cause problems if we just let it build, while also helping the community in return and helping the students and the university with these projects."

Operators at the sanitary landfill on base produce approximately 20 tons of mulch daily by recycling green waste such as pallets and tree branches. The mulch is then used to maintain the landfill and for landscaping projects around the installation. However, there is usually plenty leftover mulch to share with the university. Golabi, two technicians and several students, including one who is using the project for his master's degree thesis, took advantage of the excess and collected nearly 250 cubic yards of mulch from the base throughout the year.

"We're very thankful for their help because they have a lot of mulch and composting material at the base and we need a lot of mulch for our composting project," Golabi said. "We can use these resources to benefit our project. Otherwise, not only would we struggle finding resources, but the mulch at the base may get wasted if it is not used in a good way like we are using it."

Once the university team collected the mulch, they started converting it into compost. The compost was then used during their project and compared the results of compost to fertilizer on 28 plots with corn. The first crop was already harvested and showed promising results in favor of the compost being more effective and environmentally friendly at the same time.

"The soils of northern and southern Guam are in very poor quality, and by adding compost we can improve the quality of these soils for agricultural sustainability while also studying the environmental impact," Golabi said. "We have already applied the compost on our research plots and saw tremendous positive effects on soil quality improvement and crop productivity in terms of high yield and good quality."

The team is scheduled to plant their second crop in July and will continue to research and record more results. This initiative will also continue to be an opportunity for students to use the findings in the research projects toward their degrees. Galobi said he hopes to release the results of their findings in a year or two to benefit the local agriculture community. He also said he looks forward to a continued working relationship with the base as they plan to collect more mulch for their large-scale composting project.

"This project is such a great idea that benefits the environment and the community with something as simple as mulch," Grossley said. "We're helping them, they're helping us, and they're doing it to help the community. It's a win-win situation."