PLAINS TWP. – Two Wilkes University students were the first recipients of a new environmental award for their collaborative work to improve the environmental sustainability of a downtown Wilkes-Barre restaurant.
Olivia Waszkiewicz and Katie Cirone received the inaugural Emerging Environmental Leader Award at the 22nd annual Environmental Partnership Awards Dinner at the Woodlands Inn & Resort.
Waszkiewicz, a senior entrepreneurship major and vice president of the campus Students in Free Enterprise Club, said the club won Sam's Club Step Up for Small Business Grant this year.
We had chosen to work with Euro Bistro on Public Square and we had our eyes set on an aquaponic system, said Waszkiewicz, of Sauquoit, N.Y.
Cirone, president of the Students for Sustainability club on campus, explained aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture – fish farming – and hydroculture – growing plants in water.
Waszkiewicz said enterprise club members thought expertise of environmental engineers would be key, so they reached out to the sustainability club. Waszkiewicz and Cirone coordinated a partnership between the clubs to implement the project.
The clubs set up a grow bed for herbs at the restaurant and a tank for fish – they chose to use tilapia.
The fish produce waste, which has nutrients, Cirone said. The water with those nutrients is pumped into the grow bed. The plants utilize the nutrients from the water and clean it, and the clean water goes back into the fish tank. It's a repetitive closed circuit.
Basil, a common ingredient in the restaurant's dishes, was the plant initially used in the project.
After a month, they had more than enough. Then they started growing other herbs, Cirone said.
Other Environmental Partnership Awards recipients from Luzerne County were:
• Michael Hewitt, program manager for the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation for the last 10 years, who was honored for his contributions and commitment to addressing reclamation and remediation of rivers and streams impacted by acid mine drainage and his commitment to improving the overall environment of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
• Peter Sussenbach, Wildlife Conservation officer and Land Management supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, who was honored for his exceptional commitment to working with a variety of state and private partners in developing and executing quality habitat improvement projects in Northeastern Pennsylvania.