Campus / News / November 2, 2016

Knox aims to improve composting, recycling

In the last academic year, Knox recycled over 64 tons of material. However, people connected to sustainability on campus still see paths for improvement in Knox’s use of recycling and composting.

According to Director of Sustainability Initiatives Debbie Steinberg, Knox has composting set up in three places. “The easy one is the compost tumblers, which are currently located in the quads. We have three there. That’s a self contained composting system that only accepts raw food.”

The office is looking at expanding more tumblers to the apartment areas on the north of campus. As the tumblers have not yet been emptied, Steinberg was unsure of their results.

However, Students for Sustainability President senior Hannah McCullough expressed some skepticism about student use of the tumblers.

“As far as getting people to use them, that’s the hardest thing. The problem is people will have all this waste in their room and they have to basically save it, like in a bucket, or take it there right away.”

Composting also takes place in the Hard Knox Caf. There, food waste and compostables left on plates are rinsed off and then sent into a machine called the ‘pulper’ which breaks down the waste. From there it goes into the compost room. Then it is heated, denatured and dehydrated by a SOMAT machine, purchased in 2011.

Executive Chef Jason Crouch explained that Knox uses a color-coded bagging system for its waste. Black and white bags collected from across campus go the landfill and recycling respectively.

Compostables are separated by blue bags and green bags. Blue bags have food scraps and leftovers from the buffet and go through the SOMAT. The dehydrated material is mixed with fertilizer by a local farmer. Green bags are used for raw foods that can go into the tumblers. The green bags are taken by local farmers for slop.

“Those trash cans are around the kitchen in various locations. Cooks or dishwashers or anyone who’s working puts the desired item in the right bin.”

Crouch also emphasized the kitchen’s recent efforts to be more careful about washing its recycling, to avoid contamination by food debris.

The last place on campus with composting is the Gizmo. Alongside the landfill and recycling is the composting bin. The Gizmo also uses BioSelect cups that are compostable, as well as some other compostable materials like napkins and condiment cups.

There is a sign above the bins explaining what waste can go where. McCullough thought the Gizmo’s system helped people focus on Knox’s recycling and composting programs. “I’ve noticed people try to separate it out.”

Both McCullough and Steinberg noted though that there is still some contamination.

“But then when you look in the bins themselves, there’s often contamination. I think that that’s a confusion because, at least with the student population, everybody’s coming from a different place. It’s not so much what is recyclable, it’s what you can recycle here,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg also noted that they had just sent out an email reminder to those living on campus, and all new employees receive some training in Knox’s system.

Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust said his department tries to make it easy for students living on campus to recycle. “We tried to make it as convenient as possible … students have really stepped up.”

Maust said fire codes do not allow recycling bins in suite common areas. Students instead have bins in their own room, to use with white bags. They can then put them outside before noon on Mondays and Thursdays to have them picked up.

He added that there is some contamination, but its not a huge problem. Instead, he believes more awareness is needed, which McCullough and Steinberg also noted.

Maust also said he wished Knox could do more composting. “But we’re a little limited being inside a town. We just don’t have the right set-up to mix it and let it decompose.”

McCullough also expressed some dissatisfaction with the composting system. “The compost system … is not the best it could be right now. What it does is it pretty much just dehydrates all the waste. It doesn’t really turn it into soil like we would like.”

Knox formerly had a worm-based vermicomposting system, but ended up producing more waste than it could handle. The SOMAT machine bought in 2011 can handle just under 200 pounds of waste a day.

Maust remained optimistic while noting potential for improvement.

“We do pretty good here at Knox.”

Connor Wood, Editor-in-Chief
Connor Wood is a senior with a double major in English Literature and Environmental Studies. He started as a volunteer writer and then staff writer his freshman year and was a news editor his sophomore and junior years. He has also worked as a communications intern for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and as an intern with Unified News Group, both in the Madison, WI suburbs.

Tags:  compost director of sustainability recycling sustainability

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