Campus / Compost System / News / October 11, 2012

Senate and administrators chime in with grow dome and composting updates

Junior Max Potthoff and Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer discuss Knox’s composting program while inspecting the vat of compost in the kitchen. (TKS Archives)

Knox students and staff have big ideas, like composting, for making the community more ecologically sustainable.

Although campus may not be seeing any major changes, there has been a good deal of progress on a number of projects.

“We still compost, after killing one batch of worms,” Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer said. “It was a learning experience … If we put too much food in the compost bin and it gets above 90 degrees, it kills the worms. We had that happen several times, so we decided to restart the system.”

After replacing the worms, whose job it is to turn food waste into compost, it became necessary to re-evaluate what kinds of waste and how much of it would be composted.

According to Mayer, the system is designed for 80 pounds a day.  The current average daily  levels of the bin at Knox include 60 pounds of pre-consumer waste and three to 30 pounds of dehydrated post-consumer waste. “It overwhelmed the system,” Mayer said. “The manufacturer overstated the capacity.”

Dining Services has addressed these problems by composting only pre-consumer waste, which is food that has been thrown out before it has been eaten. Most of Knox’s post-consumer waste, which is whatever is left on the plate after a meal, is put through a pulper to remove liquid from it and then dehydrated to make a soil amendment.

“Food waste reduction is still the same as it was before we stopped composting post-consumer waste,” Mayer said.

However, there are still some problems with the current composting system.

“Last year, Senate passed a bill to help fund the removal of all Styrofoam, which is a great thing,” Sustainability Coordinator Shawn Tubb said. “The problem is that the products they got, while they’re definitely better than Styrofoam — they’re compostable products — right now, we have no way to compost them. It’s a step in the right direction … it’s just a shame that that’s going into the landfill.”

According to Tubb, “there are still other opportunities for improvement.” Tubb expressed interest in expanding composting efforts to the Gizmo, C-Store,  professors and students living off campus. “There’s no real easy way for them to compost. Right now, we just have the opportunity that they can take it to the Eco House or to the community garden,” Tubb said.
One possible solution would be to create a public, commercial composting facility in Galesburg.

“I think it would be a good thing for the city to do it,” Mayer said. “If you look at recycling in general in Galesburg, it’s pretty poor. … It would be a good draw for the city too to maybe get more residents who would want to live in a place like that. It could be beneficial in terms of finances as well, if a commercial facility sells you compost.”

Grow dome

Another idea that has been discussed is the “grow dome,” which would provide space to grow sustainable produce on campus. Student Senate put this project on hold at the end of last year, but over the summer and into this fall it has been considered more.

“We just want to make sure that it’s done right and that it’s the best project for campus,” junior Senate Sustainability Chair Nora McGinn said. “We’re all pretty happy that it got to the point last year where we decided as a student body to keep the money on reserve and plan for the future.”

In the initial planning processes, the Sustainability Task Force is looking into hiring a consultant to closely examine the tentative location of the grow dome, which is an empty lot next to the Human Rights Center. However, such a consultant may not be necessary, as the details about the soundness of the building’s would-be foundation and its potential water sources may be accessible on campus. The administration will be meeting with other students and staff this week to make a final decision.

Indeed, much of the progress forward on this project is being initiated by Knox’s administration.

“I really was reserved about it in meetings with [President Teresa Amott], and she was the one who brought it up. If she didn’t want to see this happen, then she wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go with this,’” McGinn said. “It’s happening. She’s bringing it up and she created the meetings we’re going to have.”

Regardless of the final result of this project, there seems to be a good deal of eagerness regarding its very nature.

“Whether it’s the growing dome or whether it’s another sustainability project, it’ll have the same effects for campus — we’ll be a more sustainable place, we’ll be able to market that product in a way that’ll attract new students,” McGinn said. “That’s more than just a project for students now. It’s a long-term project for students throughout generations of Knox, which is really what this fund should be about.”

Chelsea Embree
Chelsea Embree is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in art history. She previously served as co-mosaic editor and as an arts and features reporter for TKS. During the summer of 2013, she served as a content intern at The St. Louis Beacon. Chelsea has studied under former Random House copy chief Sean Mills and taught writing as a teaching assistant for First-Year Preceptorial. An avid blogger, she has written extensively about youth in St. Louis and maintains a lively poetry and nonfiction blog on Tumblr. She is also the director of communications for Mortar Board and co-president of Terpsichore Dance Collective.

Tags:  composting grow dome Knox College sustainability sustainability waste

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