Office of Sustainability implements second phase of composting program: 42 percent of waste to be composted

By EVELYN TAYLOR-MCGREGOR ’16 and GRACE BENNETT-PIERRE ’16

Assistant News Editor and Contributing Writer

by Yu Zhou '16 Staff Photographer

by Yu Zhou ’16
Staff Photographer

The Office of Sustainability implemented a new phase of the composting program this October, placing compost receptacles in all five dining halls. The office introduced the first phase of the program last semester when dining hall workers began composting waste from food preparation.

Students participate in the composting effort by scraping their plates and throwing their napkins into the composting bins instead of the trash. Patrick Willoughby, director of sustainability at Wellesley, reports that the first two weeks of the program exceeded the expected volume of compostable items due to high student participation.

“Our volume is basically higher than anticipated,” Willoughby said.

Willoughby stated that about 42 percent of Wellesley College’s solid waste will become compost. This figure does not include organic yard waste, which has been composted since before the new program’s introduction.

A diesel truck carries the compost to the closest off-campus commercial composting plant in Marlborough, Mass., about 16 miles away. The plant will convert the material into usable compost within two days.

Although some people criticize the use of diesel trucks that emit pollutants to ship composting off campus, Mayrah Udvardi ’14 believes the system still ultimately benefits the environment. Udvardi is the president of Wellesley Energy and Environmental Defense (WEED) and the eco-representative coordinator at the Office of Sustainability,

“If you do a cost-benefit analysis, it’s inconsequential,” Udvardi stated,  “People will always criticize environmental groups for what they consider hypocrisies.”

Some students are concerned with the size of the holes in the composting receptacles, which many say are too small for easy food disposal. According to Willoughby, the size of the holes must comply with the health and sanitation standards for food waste in open containers and therefore cannot be made any larger.

A report compiled by a 300-level environmental studies class in 2012 stated that Wellesley produces approximately 1,072,396 kg of waste every year, of which 41 percent is food waste and 25 percent is paper waste.

This past summer, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued a ban on all organic material in the waste stream. The ban, which will go into effect during the summer of 2014, applies to institutions that dispose of a ton or more of organic material a week. This includes businesses, such as grocery stores, food manufacturers and hotels, as well as colleges and universities like Wellesley.

According to Willoughby, Wellesley is on track to rid its garbage flow of all organic materials by the summer of 2014.

Initially, the compost bins in the dining halls had a high rate of contamination with non-compostable items such as cups lined with wax. However, contamination decreased after the Office of Sustainability placed signs in every dining hall that listed compostable items. Willoughby stressed that the success of composting in the dining halls relies heavily on students.

“These programs can only be as effective as the people that participate in them,” Willoughby said of recycling and composting initiatives on campus. Limiting contamination, ensuring that materials are deposited in the proper bin and consciously choosing not to throw things in the trash, even when recycling or composting requires an extra effort, are all key to these programs’ success.

WEED and eco-representatives contributed to the composting program by sending student volunteers to stand by compost bins, encourage students to compost and answer questions about which items could be composted for the first three days of the program.

The composting initiative also corresponded with the theme of sustainability for the month of October. Sustainability events that took place during the second week of October dealt with the issue of food waste. A campus-wide blackout will occur at 7 p.m. today, during which students are encouraged to turn off all lights for three minutes to raise awareness of personal energy consumption.

Evelyn is a sophomore studying economics and political science. Follow her on Twitter @etaylormcgregor.

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