Sorting out the compost conundrum

Commonly seen, not entirely understood, the compost bins on campus can have a tremendous impact on our environment if we all utilize them to the fullest.

Commonly seen, not entirely understood, the compost bins on campus can have a tremendous impact on our environment if we all utilize them to the fullest.

As many students and faculty may know, a new addition to the cafeteria was made last year over J-term: a trash can.

Normally, this would hardly be considered news, but these trash cans are not your typical bins. They are large wood boxes with three different slots for trash, recycling and compost. Despite the Student Senate’s efforts to table and inform students of the purpose of the bins, many struggle in figuring out where to throw away their foodstuffs. It is safe to assume that not everyone on campus knows what composting even is. Signs with images detailing what does go in each bin were posted after the bins appeared, but they do not necessarily compute to garbage that is commonly seen at St. Kate’s.

The images on these signs are vague enough that many people throw paper boats, napkins and cups in the trash. These are all compostable items. Anything that is made of paper can be composted, and food-stained boxes (such as a pizza box) can also be composted. Solid foods, such as fruit, meat and vegetables, are all to be composted as well.

The recycling bin is mostly for solid papers, like that essay you accidentally printed twice, plastic lids and straws from drinks, aluminum pop cans and glass or plastic bottles.

This leaves one item for the trash bin: plastic utensils. Even this trash item can be eliminated by using silverware.

Many might still be wondering why composing matters.

“Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states.

Greenhouse gases cause heat to stay trapped within Earth’s atmosphere, contributing to the epidemic of global warming. Most people think of carbon dioxide when they think of greenhouse gases, and while it is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, methane gases produced by waste also deeply contribute to the problem.

“We compost food waste that is unavoidable, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can also be used to amend soil thereby increasing drought tolerance, improving soil structure and health and reducing need for water and fertilizers,” Sodexo’s official website for St. Kate’s states.

Despite this statement, Sodexo does not do all that it can to make sure composting is correctly performed. An anonymous student worker confided that when they work in the dishwashing room, workers do not sort items left on plates for the sake of convenience. It can be assumed that when compostable foods and paper are tossed in the trash bin, they are not going to be sorted from there either. Therefore, it is up to all students, faculty, staff and visitors to sort it out themselves.

What does composting do on a local level?

“Composting on a local level still makes a difference. Think about all the food and compostable items that are thrown in the landfill bins on campus alone. Then add all households in the Highland area … the bigger the [area] the more the impact. There are a lot of items that can be taken out of the garbage by composting. This can help reduce the amount of garbage we’re [all] adding to landfills,” Hannah Jeries ’17, co-president of the Food Justice Coalition and communication studies major said.

Many heard the notion that it is critical that everyone reduces their carbon footprint. It is also critical to reduce methane footprints as well. Composting is proven to be one of the best ways to reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere.

What happens to half eaten hamburgers and napkins thrown into the compost bin? Eventually, the campus’ compost bags are sent to Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics Recycling Facility. This destination is 24 miles from campus, and is run by the Sioux tribe. Composted material taken to this location are dumped onto a bed of wood chips and covered by another layer of wood chips. This mixture is ground into finer chunks and combined with a special recipe that hastens the biological composting process and placed on windrows (long rows of hay or other natural materials). The process from there can last for three months, according to the Organics Recycling Facility. Eventually, it is cured and made into what we understand to be compost, and is tested for quality before being sold. Your discarded food and paper could be fertilizing someone’s backyard at this very moment.

It is nothing but a good thing that there are compost bins in the cafeteria, but can they be added elsewhere?

“[The Food Justice Coalition] is still working to get bins around campus, and hopefully the res halls will be included,” Jeries said.

If these steps were made, the composting on campus would likely increase, further reducing the impact that students and faculty have on the environment. It is finally possible to have an impact-free meal on campus, we need to do our best at a local level to help tackle an international problem.

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