Campus / Compost System / News / February 16, 2011

New ideas raised for composting at Knox

Last year, former Dining Services Chair and junior Annika Paulsen combined forces with then Sustainability Chair Creal Zearing, ’10, to begin an effort for composting at Knox. The two created a joint committee with, Paulsen said, the goal of reducing the amount of waste going from Knox College to the landfill. This Composting Committee is made of Paulsen, sophomore Katie Hansen, junior Katie Beadling, senior Michelle Gerber and Josh Davidoff, ‘10. Yet, since last year, there have not been any changes in terms of composting.

“We came up with a proposal at the end of last year,” Paulsen said. “[A] barrier we’re having right now is that we are having trouble deciding which type of system to go with.”

There are three options for composting at Knox: natural composting (using worms), a $10,000 composting machine called the Earth Tub and a $30,000 composting machine by a company called Somat.

According to Paulsen, Knox produces about 50 to 60 pounds of pre-consumer waste and about 160 pounds of post-consumer waste per day. While composting would reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills from Knox, there are issues of staffing a composting system, depending on what system is used.

“There’s no funding for labor,” Paulsen said. Of the natural composting option, she said, “That would require quite a bit of labor, 20 to 40 hours a week.”

The school would prefer to use a machine because it would be more feasible labor-wise and would not require as much maintenance as natural composting.

From the student side, Paulsen said they would prefer the cheaper Earth Tub machine if natural composting was not an option. However, the machine made by Somat might be the only system that can break down food as oily as what is served in the Gizmo, Paulsen said.

Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer said that the Somat machine would be the best fit for employees in Dining Services.

“That’s really my preference because it can be operated year round, it’s an enclosed system, [and] it’s foolproof,” Mayer said. He also said that Dining Services would need to find a place to put any machine the school purchased.

There are also problems with natural composting.

“There are a lot of zoning issues,” Paulsen said. “We could potentially make it work, but we’d need to talk to city officials.”

Helmut also said that the cost of labor would depend on the system chosen. For example, with the Somat, he figures it would perhaps take one student four hours a day to empty and maintain the machine, or the work could be shared by two students.

Some students have brought up the idea of getting compostable cups, plates and other materials for the Gizmo, but Mayer said that would not make much sense before getting a composting system.

“Why would we spend $16,000 a year more [on] compost cups in the Gizmo then put it in the landfill?” he said.

As far as the funding for the labor and the composting system goes, the Composting Committee is still unsure of where the money will come from. Paulsen said the Green Fee as well as money from the Special Meeting for Use of the Restricted Fund could be applicable. The committee is also trying to find a Knox department that would help with funding.

Annie Zak

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