Knox has been without composting for a year now, since the Somat machine used to process waste from the caf and Gizmo broke. In that time, students have not been informed of this lack of composting and have continued to believe Knox was composting and to use the system in place.
It is understandable that there would be a desire to keep the practices that make composting easier in place while we replace the machinery necessary to actually compost. However, this has also created a false belief in the student body.
Since we do not know what kind of machine we will end up with and especially since the current plans do not include re-purchasing a Somat machine like we had before, the practices will most likely end up needing to be tweaked regardless.
We waste around 250 pounds of compostables a day. Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman has rightly pointed out that composting can provide educational opportunities. Formerly, it was also used on the Knox Farm and on other local farms.
As was done in the past, local uses should be prioritized. It would be a shame to offset any environmental benefit by shipping the compost long distances when it can be used nearby.
Machines break. The problem is that we have taken so long to start doing something to replace it. In the same amount of time, the tumblers system in place near some residential buildings have also become unusable. The student project to get the tumblers working is a welcome, and necessary, move that begins to get us back on the right track with composting.
We are running at a $2.2 million deficit for this year. The administration has commendably brought that down from $2.7 million. In light of that, it is understandable that spending $100,000 to $150,000 on another machine should be viewed with skepticism.
However, this is yet another place where we threaten to fall behind other schools. ACM schools have larger systems in place already and while they may benefit from a larger size and readier access to outside resources, we should at least have something if we want to compete.
More importantly, on a fundamental level we as a community have an obligation to the Earth, ourselves and the future. Composting is just a small part of this and the Office of Sustainability has done many other worthwhile projects. However, this is a large gap in what we can do to help the environment. In a political climate which is increasingly pushing efforts to combat climate change and environmental degradation to the margins, any organization the size of Knox should be doing everything it can to fight it.
A composting system cannot exist in solitude either. It must be a component of continued efforts to lower the amount of waste we produce. Food Recovery Network’s efforts are strongly applaudable and should be supported by the school as a whole.
Spending this amount of money is not something to be done lightly or quickly, but a full year is unacceptable. No progress has been made and if funding from the school is unlikely to happen we should look for outside grants to buy the machine. The first step though is being open with students that composting is not happening at Knox. Keeping some of the system in place is fine, but students cannot be misled about the reality of the situation and must be kept updated on progress towards the fix.