Composting next step for CWRU

At this point in the "environmental movement," I am sure students and environmental aficionados are tired of hearing about recycling and the tons of waste each member of society disposes of each year. However, there is one unique aspect of recycling that the CWRU campus and many Cleveland communities have neglected: the composting of our food scraps.

Food scraps are the "most recyclable" of all trash - here, recycling is the decomposition of organic material that continuously occurs in nature, often without any assistance from mankind. And yet, the campus community does not bother collecting students'/household food waste. Are we so averse to composting because of the stench of rotting food? Perhaps we are uncomfortable with composting because the process cannot be contained within a shiny blue bin. Whatever the reason may be, composting is very simple to implement, practice and utilize. Several college campuses, such as the University of Vermont (UVM) and Oberlin College already incorporate composting in their recycling regime. While the majority of recycling may occur in the academic buildings and residential halls, dining halls should focus on composting food scraps.

The UVM campus collects about 4.96 tons of food waste per week to be composted at a non-profit business, Intervale Compost Facility, located right off the university's campus. At this facility, the food waste is dumped and layered with other organic wastes such as leaves, yard debris and manure. As the pile heats up, the food waste breaks down into rich, dark soil. The finished product is used on farmland, by home gardeners and by landscapers. Most of the food waste that is sent to the composting facility originates from the university's dining hall staff who separate food scraps during preparation and cooking. At some dining hall locations, students are asked to scrape leftovers into a marked food waste cart.

Additionally, per request of the UVM recycling organization, small, 32-ounce plastic tubs are provided in student kitchens in the residential halls. Students receive the small plastic tub to collect food scraps during the week, and are responsible for bringing their collected food scraps to a compost collection site on campus - usually a dining hall. In some residence halls, students set up food collection pails in a central area of the hall or kitchen.

At neighboring Oberlin College, the kitchen staff there composts all raw food while the campus cafes compost coffee grinds and tea bags. To further enhance composting efforts, the Campus Dining Services plan to purchase a grinder and pulper for use in dining halls and in the community. The pulper pulverizes and extracts liquids from organic products allowing for composting of post-consumer cooked-organic waste from dining halls, which would otherwise be too full of diseases to turn into quality compost. A grinder would be used to shred organic waste, allowing for the composting of biodegradable take-out containers which would otherwise take about one year to decompose.

As it seems, the farthest the CWRU campus has pushed towards composting was sending out a short survey this past summer to campus members inquiring on their thoughts of composting. Since then, there's been no word on composting or a publication of the survey responses.

After recently spending a day in Oberlin, where the light smell of backyard compost piles wafted through the air, mixing well with the wet smell of decaying leaves after the night rain, it was clear that composting wasn't just limited to dining hall kitchens, but to individual homes, apartments and co-ops. The conservation lifestyle of Oberlin makes composting practices acceptable as well as accessible, a concept from which the CWRU and the Cleveland community should take a class lesson and add another dimension to recycling/conservation.

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