January 28, 2010

Composting soon a Knox reality

Nearly 236 pounds of food go to waste every day at Knox College. That amount is equivalent to the weight of 825 squirrels every week and, in total, nearly 52,000 lb in an academic year. So claims the handmade poster hanging near the front of the Hard Knox Café.

When such massive numbers are applied to the equation, sustainability becomes a much more immediate issue for those with any concern for the environment. At least, this is the hope of several groups on campus.

Led by senior Creal Zearing, chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee, student plans to bring composting to campus look like they are finally coming to fruition. Zearing decided to resurrect past efforts and begin the project anew after receiving support from other students.

“I had noticed the past few years there had been a lot of talk about composting,” Zearing said. “We just needed to combine those efforts and actually make it happen.”

She hopes to have a final plan in place as soon as next term, which would go into effect at the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year. Her hopes are significant for another reason as well.

In 2009, Knox President Roger Taylor signed the “Illinois Sustainable University Compact,” a statewide initiative that includes 12 benchmarks colleges can agree upon to help the environment. Nine of those were selected to be implemented by the end of 2010. A commitment to compost at least 5,000 cubic yards of organic waste was one of those selections.

Until recently, however, it was a project with little momentum.

Practicality has been a major issue, say those close to the effort. Some worry if students will take the initiative to make sure food waste outside of the cafeteria is disposed of properly, similar to recycling bins. The project would begin with prep waste (stems from fruits and vegetables, as well as other waste that comes from preparing food) and eventually include the post waste, such as banana peels.

“That’s why it’s so complicated,” Zearing said. “Are students going to be dedicated enough to take care of it?”

Supporters of composting argue that it clears space in landfills, while providing a cheap fertilizer and rich soil to local farmers and gardeners.

“When food waste ends up in a landfill, it doesn’t biodegrade because there is no air or water. Composting is a way of getting all of that waste out of landfills and turning it into something the earth can use,” Zearing said.

The compost pile would most likely be located on the four-acre plot behind the Human Rights Center and could be potentially be used by the grounds crew and Gardening Club as well as people in the community.

Perhaps, the final problem composting at Knox faces is deciding which technique is most applicable to a college campus.

“We might as well copy a system that’s already working,” Zearing said.

While they have not surveyed methods at other schools yet, they probably will in the near future. One way or another, composting will soon be coming to a campus near you. “That’s my goal—seeing that it actually happens,” said Zearing.

Matt McKinney
Matt McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. His experience with journalism ranges from a year as co-sports editor for TKS to an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he used his Spanish language skills to report a front-page story on changes to federal immigration policy. He has also written for The Galesburg Register-Mail and Knox’s Office of Communications. Matt is the recipient of the 2012 Knox College Kimble Prize for Feature Journalism and two awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including a first place award for sports game coverage. He is currently interning virtually with The Tampa Bay Times and will pursue his master's next year at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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