University News

Rebooted compost initiative brings sustainability to BUDS

Student, staff, community volunteers collected 40,000 pounds of compost in first three weeks

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bins in the Ratty play a central role in Brown’s compost intiative, projected to cut waste by one fourth this year.

As a part of its continuing sustainability efforts, the University compost initiative is now present in most on-campus dining establishments, said Jessica Berry, sustainability program manager. The initiative is a revival of the pilot program launched spring 2015 at Andrews Commons.

With the expansion, the compost operation is now present in the Sharpe Refectory, the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, the Blue Room and the catering services at Andrews, she added.

In the first three weeks of the program, over 40,000 pounds of compost were collected, said Megan Kelly ’17, who worked on the initiative as an intern in the Office of Energy and Environment. In August, approximately 24,000 pounds were collected, Berry said.

The initiative is already a success, Kelly said, adding that Brown is the first institution of its size in Rhode Island to take on a compost operation of this magnitude.

But there is still room for improvement. For example, “not every load of compost that the compost plant picks up is contaminant-free,” she said, adding that “there are going to be obstacles and bumps along the road in any major project.”

Much of the ongoing work involves finding specific items that could contaminate the compost bin and creating “new marketing, education and sign ideas,” to spread the information, Kelly added. The compost team is also determining the optimal locations for compost bins around campus.

Currently, there are 36 students, 11 staff members and two community members volunteering for the initiative, Berry said. Most visibly, they can be seen wearing neon yellow vests helping students compost properly.

As the program continues, Berry said projections show 600 tons of organic material will be diverted in fiscal year 2017 out of the approximately 2,400 tons of trash thrown out annually.

“The organics collection program going into the fall semester is expected to see some initial challenges as students become accustomed to the process,” Berry said. “We have extensively planned and implemented communications and training strategies to give students, faculty and staff the tools they need to properly sort their waste.”

“I think a lot of students — and staff particularly — are mindful of composting,” Kelly said. She added that there are also locations around campus for “opt-in” composting, for students outside of dining halls who want to compost.

Compost operations in the V-Dub are “fully back-of-house and managed directly by the dining staff,” Berry said. At the Ratty, things run smoothly because of work done with Dining Services that minimizes the potential contaminants.

“Our general rule is if it grows, it goes. Anything organic can go in our compost,” Kelly said, adding that while this is easy to do in the Ratty, there are many items in the Blue Room that could contaminate the compost.

In the Blue Room, and in general with composting, she said, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

The initiative is part of the University’s commitment to comply with the Rhode Island Refuse Disposal Law, which took effect Jan. 1, The Herald previously reported. The law requires institutions to compost if they are large producers of organic waste and are close to a compost facility.

The University’s move to composting is in line with many municipalities, nations and companies that are also composting, Berry said. “By understanding and learning about the importance of this program, students are preparing themselves for life beyond Brown.”