Campus / News / October 15, 2014

Composting system a success

Junior Inez Pena dumps leftover food from the Gizmo into a machinator as part of the college's efforts to become more sustainable. (Casey Mendoza/TKS)

Junior Inez Pena dumps leftover food from the Gizmo into a machinator as part of the college’s efforts to become more sustainable. (Casey Mendoza/TKS)

The Office of Sustainability finally has something to show for the efforts they have put into their new composting system over the past year. Composting has made its way through one full season, meaning that the end product can now be utilized as fertilizer in the new high tunnels on campus.

Considering effectiveness, the initiative has proven itself worth the wait.

“Ninety-five percent of all organic waste generated in Seymour’s sit-down dining venues is recovered,” Director of Campus Sustainability Initiatives Froggi Van-Riper said. This equates to roughly an entire dump-truck-load of compost material a trimester, or three loads a year, to be utilized.

The remaining unrecovered five percent of waste comes from Grab-N-Go stations.

Beyond dining venues, special events on campus also provide opportunities to collect waste. The Office of Sustainability provides bins at events, such as last weekend’s Homecoming, with labels that ask guests to sort their own waste.

Although composting has had a substantial amount of success, it is not without its complications. When event hosts invite Sustainability to provide composting bins at their events, they often supply plates and cups for guests that are inappropriate for the composting process..

To combat this obstacle at events, Sustainability and Dining Services now provide compost-friendly food ware and a worker stationed at the bins to assist guests sorting their waste.

The office hopes to install signage in the Gizmo that answers frequently asked questions.

“This project is only possible because of active collaboration between Dining Services, Facilities and the Office of Sustainability,” Van-Riper said. The composting system spans from sorting waste accumulated in the kitchen to supplying high tunnels with the end product.

The process begins with waste being collected and sorted by type. Food items should be placed in the composting bin along with napkins and other small paper items. All other waste products should be recycled or disposed of.

Waste products are organized into two categories: pre-consumer and post-consumer. Pre-consumer waste is anything that is disposed of in the kitchens as food is being prepared. Employees are trained to separate items that can be composted as they dispose of them.

Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer oversaw the previous worm-based composting system that was ultimately unsuccessful. He said that his staff had been sorting waste for composting for the past several years, so the new composting method has not slowed the kitchens down at all.

Post-consumer waste is made up of anything students dispose of after they have finished their meals. If students dine at the Oak Room or Hard Knox CafŽ, they place their waste on a conveyor belt for employees to sort.

The Gizmo is unique in that it requires students to sort for themselves. This adds to Sustainability’s efforts to educate the campus. Rather than being “behind the scenes,” VanRiper said, “the consumer has to make a conscious decision” to sort their waste in the Gizmo bins. This causes issues when consumers either do not understand how to sort their waste or simply choose not to. Van-Riper said this is unfortunate, but does not ruin the process.

“The contamination is not significant enough to ruin the process — it just slows it down and inconveniences my staff, who have to manually remove contaminants,” she said.

After sorting, compostable items are placed into a food pulper where the waste is shredded up. From here, the pulp is placed in a dehydrator overnight where it is sterilized and most of the remaining moisture is extracted. This step makes it easier for soil-dwelling organisms to break down processed foods more easily.

The pulp is collected throughout the week and taken to the college’s newly installed compost bays, constructed by Director of Facilities Scott Maust, where it is often combined with pulp gathered from the college’s landscaping waste. Here, the compost is processed until it is ready to fertilize crops in the high tunnels.

Erica Baumgardner

Tags:  composting dining services facilities Froggi VanRiper gizmo helmut mayer recycling scott maust sustainability

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