Chef cutting a pineapple

Composting program diverts 23 tons of material from landfills

April 16, 2021

University News

When pandemic safety protocols changed campus dining, UR got creative with outdoor food tents and complete meals prepped for pick-up. However, the increase in to-go dining also meant more food packaging.

As the trashcans filled, students took notice.

“Minimizing waste is usually something we have to recruit for,” said Rob Andrejewski, director of sustainability. “We do such a good job of managing it but all of a sudden, it was so visible.”

Students started campaigning to implement a composting program that would capture food waste and process the compostable utensils and packaging already in use on campus.

The University was on track to launch a composting effort in 2022 as part of a multi-faceted goal to divert 75% of campus waste away from landfills by 2025. But with the growing interest, a Rethink Waste team comprising dining, events, procurement, and custodial staff quickly assembled a three-month pilot program to test the viability of the goal.

“The program is a direct reflection of the commitment to stewardship in a changing world as part of the University’s strategic plan,” said Scott Lincoln, manager of Custodial and Environmental Services. “This support clearly permeated multiple departments. It was remarkable to witness.”

The pilot program built on past events-based composting, such as zero-waste athletic games. It launched in November with campus kitchens and the Forum dining tent and expanded to Organic Krush — which exclusively uses compostable packaging and utensils — when the café opened in January.

From November to February, the University diverted almost 25 tons of compost material from the landfill. Natural Organic Processes Enterprise hauls the material to Waverly, Virginia, where it’s processed in an industrial composting facility. For every ton of compostable material, 40 pounds of nutrient-rich compost material will be returned to campus and used by the landscaping team.

More important than volume is minimizing contamination by mixing non-compostable materials — and that requires education. Thirteen student compost coordinators have been tasked with spending two to three weeks at different dining locations. They stand by the trash cans and approach diners to explain how to correctly divide waste for recycling, landfill, and composting. Once the compost coordinators move to a new location, signs are installed to reinforce the message.

“The hope is that these one-on-one interactions translate to behavior change,” said David Donaldson, operations and summer programs coordinator, who leads the student compost coordinators. “This is something that we’ve been working on for years, but to actually have it come to fruition as the way we do things on campus is something I’m grateful for.”

Related:

Students recommend education, composting dashboard in winning Sustainable Solutions Challenge pitch