Campus / Featured / News / April 16, 2014

Changes on tap for sustainability

Volunteers help finish up the high tunnel Friday, April 11. Project director Jim Stanley hoped to plant tomato plants over the weekend and begin the growing process at Knox. There is still a second, smaller high tunnel to be finished. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

Volunteers help finish up the high tunnel Friday, April 11. Project director Jim Stanley hoped to plant tomato plants over the weekend and begin the growing process at Knox. There is still a second, smaller high tunnel to be finished. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

Anyone who has eaten in the Gizmo has noticed that the old garbage cans are gone, replaced by several newer options as part of an ongoing sustainability push at Knox.

The new garbage cans, brainchild of Director of Campus Sustainability Initiatives Froggi VanRiper, is one of many of Knox’s recent initiatives. The old, singular can was replaced with one with separate compartments for landfill, recycling and compost. And while certainly a step in the right, sustainable direction, student response has been lukewarm.

“It’s a great idea but the labeling is wrong, it gets me all confused. Plus it’s a bit annoying,” said freshman Kyle Dinse. “But it’s good to know that at least some of the waste is being recycled.”

The Office of Sustainability is also looking to use similar garbage cans during special events across campus.

The garbage cans are one of many sustainability initiatives launched on campus, although the sustainability office is still ironing out some kinks.

“We will put up a more permanent display of what goes where,” said VanRiper. “And the cups in the Gizmo are made by a material the composting system we use can’t break down, so we put it up on another one.”

Students are happy to see that the college is trying to do its part.

“It’s great from an economic, moral and environmental perspective,” said former president of the gardening club Evan Lewitus ‘13. “And the sauce pumps are a pretty neat idea.”

It is here that another of Knox’s sustainability initiatives comes into play: the new composting system.

Knox’s past results with composting have been mixed, to say the least. The old worm-based system, implemented with money from Student Senate’s Green Fund, had serious problems. With the new system. however, composting seems to be starting afresh at Knox. Unlike its predecessor, the current system does not rely on worms.

“They [the worms] are essentially livestock. They require their own upkeep, and keeping their living conditions optimal requires intuition just as much as knowledge. You need to set the pH and the acidity just right,” said VanRiper. This tradeoff means that the composting itself will take longer, as the worms work faster, but overall, it is a more efficient process.

After dishes are placed on the conveyor belt at the CafŽ, employees in the dish room scrape food and paperware into a large grinder, which grinds the waste into a pulp and deposits it into a sieve. The sieve sucks out the water, and the thick pulp is hand-transferred into a dehydrator, where it is left overnight. The next morning the dehydrated mass is taken near Academy St. to a pile of similarly dehydrated, pre-compost material. The previous day’s landscaping and yard waste goes into the same pile, too.

Once a sufficient amount has been collected in these piles, it is all taken to several massive concrete bays where it is thoroughly mixed with mulch, leaves and twigs, and then left to its own devices. Several conditions determine how long it takes before the compost is ready to be used, including temperature, humidity and what’s in the composting pile itself. The pile is turned occasionally by a tractor, and left there for anywhere from one to six months before it is ready.

Composting around 200 pounds of food daily this way will yield a minimum of two and a half tonnes of compost annually from food alone. Yard waste adds more. The college plans to use this compost in the high tunnels.

“Especially after the worms, it’s a good thing that Knox didn’t turn its back on composting. And home grown food does taste better,” added Lewitus.

But where does all this compost go? That’s where the high tunnels come into play.

Standing between the HRC and Tri Delta, with a plastic sheet tightly draped over its metallic lattice, the high tunnels work similarly to a greenhouse: heat is trapped inside while sunlight is allowed to pass in from outside. Only, instead of potted plants, the crops are planted directly into the soil. Tomatoes, radishes, carrots, beets, peppers; the Office of Sustainability plans to plant it all. Crops are chosen seasonally, and will be grown all year round.

Having only one entrance (instead of the standard two) to such a large food supply will be easier to keep watch over. That, safety lights and a not-too-subtle presence right by the road will help ensure that the tunnels are safe.

 

Amber Upraity

Tags:  caf composting food froggi van riper waste worms

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