EAC composting initiative in Northwoods: Environmental Action Club lessens food waste in student apartments

Posted by Andrew Shi In the spring semester of 2011, Talia Arnow '13, chairwoman of the Environmental Action Club's (EAC) Compost Subcommittee, created the compost initiative, which is now active in the Northwoods apartments.

A food waste audit was conducted in the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall last semester to determine how much food the college wastes on a weekly basis. The results came out to nearly half a ton of wasted food per day in pre- and post-consumer food, totaling 6986.50 pounds in one week. The Compost Subcommittee has now moved the initiative to Northwoods, and hopes to eventually expand the system to the rest of the college.

"The residential composting initiate has been very successful and has met [EAC] expectations," Campus Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer said.

At the beginning of the semester, each apartment is given one white two-gallon pail, and a pamphlet explaining what can be composted. During the week, residents are expected to put scraps of uneaten food into the bucket and then, when the bucket is full, dump the waste into a larger grey bucket situated outside each building near the laundry room.

Every Friday afternoon, EAC volunteers take these grey buckets to a large, four-part compost bin in Scribner Village. There, the compost is converted through several steps into the fertilizer used for the Student Garden.

The original cost of the compost initiative, Neugebauer said, was approximately $2,200-2,300. These funds were allocated mostly for the purchase of the large compost bin, the smaller buckets, lids, shovels and other tools. However, composting now "costs nothing to maintain per month because it is being handled [by] volunteers in EAC," Neugebauer said.

As to how much the compost initiative has saved the college, "it is not likely to be saving a lot of money currently, if any, because it isn't affecting the number of times that Springer Waster [the company hired to remove the college's waste] has to haul waste offsite from campus as of now," Neugebauer said. The amount of waste composted by Northwoods is, in respect to the total amount of waste by the college, too small to financially benefit it, although not insignificant.

Neugebauer said the current initiative is partially experimental, and, depending on any issues that arise, the project may be expanded to Scribner Housing and further. Neugebauer said that the EAC members will most likely "consider expansion once we are confident that there are enough people to handle the workload, and decide whether another bin is needed to handle the additional waste."

Neugebauer says current Northwoods resident participation in the compost initiative is at 17 percent. She adds that most residents were satisfied and excited about the initiative. Annie Wu '12, a Northwoods resident, agrees with this consensus. "I like the idea of it, but there is a concern that it attracts and breeds flies."

Lids for the buckets were included this semester to help ward off the flies, but this still seems to be an issue that the EAC will have to deal with.

This project is an important step in creating a more environmentally geared and conscious campus, Neugebauer said. "The more we can tie conceptual information from the classroom to real-world projects, the more accessible, practical and possible sustainability will be." Arnow said that she supports all the information provided by Neugebauer, adding that she believes the initiative has been a great success for EAC and volunteers.

Neugebauer said that "it is necessary to look at the larger scope of waste and how we can reduce the waste stream in multiple ways... which in total has the potential to reduce costs and reduce emissions and be more sustainable." The compost system is only one method employed to reduce waste. Students are encouraged to lessen waste in the dining hall, in their apartments and dorms, and to be environmentally mindful every day.

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