By Ed Brennen
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the university’s work in reducing food waste, part of a nationwide effort to cut down on the amount of food that gets thrown into the trash.
The EPA program, known as the Food Recovery Challenge, encourages grocers, restaurants, educational institutions and sports and entertainment venues across the country to prevent and reduce waste. UMass Lowell was among 24 organizations in New England to be recognized for its efforts, joining such higher education institutions as Boston College, Northeastern University, College of the Holy Cross and UMass Dartmouth.
In total, the university composted 247 tons of food waste in fiscal year 2017. Working with its solid waste contractor, Casella Waste Systems, the university collects and pulps table and kitchen scraps from dining facilities. Casella then transports the waste to a local farm, where it becomes nutrient-rich compost.
“We are proud to be recognized once again by the EPA as a leader in food waste diversion,” says Rich Lemoine, executive director of Administrative Services and Environmental and Emergency Management. “These efforts are an important part of our commitment to sustainability and energy conservation. As the university grows, we look forward to growing and evolving the compost program.”
The university launched its composting program at Fox Hall’s University Dining Commons in 2013 in advance of a new state regulation that banned disposal of commercial food waste by restaurants, universities and other entities that generate at least one ton of organic waste per week.
In 2014, the composting program was expanded to all dining halls and food operations on campus – and was lauded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection as a prime example of innovation in food waste diversion. In recent months, the university’s reputation as a leader in sustainability has gained national attention. The Princeton Review recognized the university in its guide to green colleges, and UML climbed in the Sierra Club’s rankings of “Cool Schools” for sustainability and ecoliteracy.
This fall, the Office of Sustainability added composting receptacles next to recycling and trash bins at University Crossing and the Southwick Food Court. Plans call for more composting receptacles to be added around campus in the coming year.
Composting is just one example of the university’s commitment to sustainable practices.
The Office of Sustainability partnered with the Information Security department this semester to host a free two-day event, “Fall Into Recycling.” Students, faculty and staff were invited to bring personal items from home for secure disposal and confidential documents for shredding.
More than 1,200 items were collected during the two dropoff days, including 91 TVs and computer monitors, 20 air conditioners and 200 batteries. In all, 7,042 pounds of electronics were diverted from landfills and 5,030 pounds of paper were shredded.
And what was the most interesting item collected?
“Either a mask for working with lasers or a fully functioning disco ball,” says Pamela Beckwith, recycling coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.
The university will host another recycling event in April as part of its Earth Week celebration.