Sustainability efforts on campus have been aided through a number of different campus programs, including recycling. One of the crucially important ways of recycling excess organic material on campus is through composting. It is an important part of Willamette campus life and should be treated as such.
According to Greencoast.org, composting refers to “the biological decaying of organic waste, including plant materials and food.” Once this waste is broken down, it can be used to easily fertilize plants and soils. But finding a place to easily break down this material isn’t always an easy task at a university. However, Salem, OR is one of the many parts of the country that is lucky enough to have curbside composting, according to Governing.com.
This greatly benefits Willamette because of all the food waste created by Goudy Commons and their catering services doesn’t get thrown out with the trash. According to Joe Abraham, the director of the Sustainability Institute, all of the pre- and post-prep food waste get placed in a series of bins that are walked out to the street each week.
For the last nine years, this waste has been sent to a facility in Corvallis, where it is turned into a soil amendment (which, according to Yardcare.com, are materials added to soil to improve plant growth.) Since Willamette’s non-compostable waste goes to Covanta, the state incinerator, and not to a landfill, compost becomes a better option for the environment.
The food service composting is year round, but when it comes to composting on a smaller scale, such as in the residence halls, it’s up to the students to be responsible. Abraham said that there is the possibility of expanding the program to offices and other academic buildings on campus, but for now they’re working on standardizing all their bins with information about what is and isn’t compostable.
“There’s a lot of value in us creating a standard and then applying it, and letting it loose with bins and outreach and information about it,” Abraham said.
That’s where the students come in. On campus, composting is organized by sophomore Marion Powell, who is the current Zero Waste and Composting Coordinator for Students for Sustainability.
For the last six years, there have been students responsible for compost bins in residence halls. Typically there are between 20 to 30 student representatives per semester, and one to two per residence hall. Their main focus is to expand it through residence halls and even to offer it to off campus students as a resource.
Powell said that they are “creating a pathway for students on campus to be the most sustainable as possible, whether it’s composting or other zero waste methods.”
Other efforts to increase sustainability have been through workshops where anyone can participate, placing a compost bin in the SOAR Center and setting up a compost store on the Willamette website so staff can purchase one and put it in their location.
According to Powell, the composting store should come out within the semester. Contact <compost-info> to keep updated or get more information on how to get a compost bin.
They also collaborate with other sustainability groups on campus, such as the Climate Action Alliance and with the Food Recovery Network, where they’ve weighed food waste in Goudy as an educational tool to understand the type of waste that’s being produced. This is an important step on campus, as students might not always recognize the amount of waste being produced in places without composting readily available to them.
“It’s all really educational and really solid to know what type of waste you’re producing and keeping a conscious mind on that,” said Powell.
Get educated about how composting happens, because it’s an important thing to do, and can have a bigger impact than just recycling. Abraham asked students to “take it upon themselves to find out how composting happens locally [even though] we try to make that information available to our students.”
Composting is an important part of being sustainable, and it’s not out of reach for college students or others on and off Willamette campus. Students should be responsible for their waste in and out of residence halls, and a good way to do that is to sign up to get a compost bin.
Without a place to be composted, your waste will end up in a landfill or an incinerator with no chance of being repurposed into something environmentally friendly. If you’re looking to do something about all the compostable waste on campus, students will be handing out compost bins the night of Wednesday, Feb. 11 in Goudy from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Or, keep a lookout for sign-ups during the first few weeks of next semester, and become a compost representative.