Editorial: Make composting a campus-wide effort

Posted by the Editorial Board

Last Friday each resident of Northwoods and Scribner Village received a knock on their door and a bucket for the corner of their kitchen. The composting season has begun.

Thanks to the efforts of the college's Environmental Action Club (EAC) Skidmore's residential areas have remained on board for one of the easiest and most gratifying ways to reduce waste on campus. Perhaps one of the more immediate benefits of this practice is the soil quality of the Skidmore Garden, which through the use of compost is more fertile and productive. The wider purpose, of course, is to reduce our waste production, amassed not only through scraps of food but also landfill space.

The contribution of the apartments is impossible to ignore. A subcommittee of the EAC has kept track of how much waste Northwoods Apartments produced last spring: 945 pounds of waste, about 24 pounds on average each week, was created by each apartment building.

So the buckets in every house, taken to the nearest composting bin and left for volunteers to pick up, have already demonstrated their potential to push Skidmore closer to an ideal environmental policy.

The next logical step, then, would be to institute composting in the college's nexus of food and waste production, the Dining Hall. According to Riley Neugebauer, Skidmore's sustainability coordinator, the college is currently looking into a smaller pilot project for some of the waste from the Dining Hall. 

Why, in the wake of the impact of composting in the residential villages, might we be taking this kind of gradualist approach? The project under way is certainly better than nothing, but it is by no means obvious why the college shouldn't throw its full weight behind an initiative that would reduce so much waste and potentially save money.

One reason, and the one most cited by students, is the less than enthusiastic reception of Dining Hall composting after an audit was conducted last year. This test-run, one must admit, was not perfect in its execution. A table of only four composting bins were simply propped in front of the standard tray accumulator and made the expected lines much longer. It comes as no surprise that students felt any new composting system might bring about a clumsy and clogged dining hall experience.

But the kinks in the audit that gave way to such doubts are easily fixed; the fact is that Dining Hall compost stations can work, and are working elsewhere in the country. For some competitive context, we might take into account the progress made by other colleges on this front. Connecticut College, only a year after the idea was proposed, has eliminated 35,000 pounds of waste a year from two of its campus dining halls.

Cornell, having perfected its vast system for years, eliminates 850 tons of pre and post consumer waste from the dining halls each year. Schools such as Oberlin, Vassar, and Tufts are all joining in and making strides toward an impressive policy.

The details of Skidmore's new dining hall project are still being determined as the college gathers more information and talks with those who have done large-scale composting for years such as state municipalities and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Hopefully the planning and execution of this initiative will match the relevancy and importance of its purpose.

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