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University Composts Dining Hall Food

Pilot Boosts Campus Sustainability

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Dining services staff prepare food for pulping as part of the University’s food waste composting program.

By Jill Gambon

Bits of blueberry muffin, remnants of cheeseburger and scraps of crispy fries – food that’s typically destined for garbage bins now has a chance at a second life through a new food composting program at Fox Hall’s University Dining Commons.

Under the pilot program introduced at the start of the semester, table scraps and food waste from the kitchen are being collected, pulped and transported to a local farm for composting.  In September, the first month of the program, an average of 526 pounds of food waste was readied for composting each day, for a total of 15,780 pounds, or nearly 8 tons, for the month.
“This is being viewed as a model program for higher education,” says Richard Lemoine, director of environmental and emergency management. “It’s all part of our effort to be a leader in sustainability and energy conservation.”

Dining Services turns out about 21,000 meals a week at Fox Hall, making it the largest eatery on campus.  

The program was launched in advance of a new state regulation that will ban disposal of commercial food waste by restaurants, universities and other entities that generate at least one ton of organic waste per week. Scheduled to take effect July 1, 2014 the regulation is intended to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators.

Food waste and organics make up as much as 25 percent of the waste currently buried in landfills or burned in incinerators, according to the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The new regulations require that commercial food waste be shipped to a composting operation, an animal feed entity or a facility for anaerobic digestion (AD), a process that converts food waste into renewable energy. 

Composting food waste offers numerous benefits, including reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers, cutting back on methane production in landfills and diverting organic materials from the waste stream.
“It feels great to be doing something that will have a positive impact on the University and the environment,” says Tiffany Blake, a senior majoring in Environmental Health and president of the Student Environmental Alliance, who helped get the composting program started.

The campus composting project is a collaborative effort involving staff, Dining Services, students and Casella Waste Systems, the University’s solid waste contractor.  It requires no change in routine for students: They put their plates and cups on the ‘Dish Drop’ conveyor in University Dining Commons as usual. However, behind the scenes, kitchen workers scrape any food remaining on the plates into a chute that carries the waste to a pulper. Food scraps from meal preparation such as egg shells, meat trimmings or carrot peels are also dropped into the chute and pulped. 

After pulping, the material is removed and stored in bins. Casella picks up the pulped waste three times a week and carts it to the farm for composting. After about eight months, a nutrient-rich material will result that can be added to soil or used as a growing medium for plants. Some of that material that started as food scraps in Fox Hall will come full circle, making its way back to campus as compost. 

“A small portion of the compost that is created will come back to the University and be used for plantings and other projects,” says Lemoine.