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Composting to be implemented campus-wide by fall 2016

After pilot in Andrews in spring 2015 yields contamination, BDS to introduce new system

As of the fall 2016 semester, the University will have implemented composting programs across all dining halls, a development that follows a pilot program launched in spring 2015 in Andrews Dining Commons. The revitalized composting program will be introduced in the Sharpe Refectory, the Blue Room and the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall July 1, and other dining halls will follow suit later in the summer.

The Office of Energy and Environment and Brown Dining Services led the initial composting program. The pilot program arrived on the heels of a report issued by the Brown Student Compost Initiative, SCRAP, which called for campus-wide composting.

The program garnered success early on in its pilot semester, but issues arose after student volunteers monitoring the filtering of waste left the program. Without volunteers to aid students, the contamination rate of non-compostable items rose from between 5 and 10 percent to between 20 and 25 percent.

Earth Care Farms, the compost-processing facility for the University, would not accept the compost due to the labor costs of sorting contaminants. This problem halted the project, inhibiting its return this fall.

The University ran a pilot program to prevent any issues that would arise with the introduction of composting, said Christopher Powell, assistant vice president of Sustainable Energy and Environmental Initiatives, who has helped to lead Brown’s composting initiative. “We gathered a lot of good data, and we had an incredible amount of volunteers and paid interns managing that process.”

The new program will aim to address the major issue of cross-contamination.

Staff members at the dining halls will tackle issues of “front-house” infrastructure by changing composting bins from open-topped to hooded in an attempt to make students think more about how they are disposing of waste. The University will also try to minimize non-compostable products in the dining halls and standardize the assortment of different dinnerware distributed by campus eateries. New color coding, logos and lettering will make sorting easier by differentiating trash, recycling and compost bins. Finally, the University may implement an “opt-in” layout, separating the composting area from the other waste receptacles.

But as Powell remarks, “Students are the key to this.”  In the coming months, and especially at the start of the fall semester, the sustainability program will make more concerted efforts to reach out and form a new “composting culture” within the student body.

“When we went in to the University to fund the composting program, we also requested funds to bolster the communication and awareness in order to, pardon the pun, provide a sustainable way to continue the program,” Powell said. “Back of the house, we can work with our dining staff and even eliminate contamination to a point, but the real issue is getting the students’ attention on how to do it properly.”

The majority of composting waste comes from the kitchens and food preparation areas. Many schools across the country only compost waste from these areas, Powell added.

But Jessica Berry, the University’s sustainability program manager, said that a composting program that involves student participation is vital to the culture of Brown, which prides itself on sustainability and innovative ideas.

“There will be a huge student component,” Berry said, adding that students will be involved in “everything from having initial volunteers at the facilities when they open to having fun events to teach students, staff and faculty why composting is important to Brown, Providence and Rhode Island as a whole.”

Currently, 12 student interns in the sustainability management office are dedicated to rolling out the composting program. A large force of student volunteers will help get the effort off the ground this fall.

The return of this initiative falls in accordance with the recently passed Rhode Island Refuse Disposal Law, which took effect Jan. 1. The law stipulates that institutions must compost if they generate more than two tons of organic waste per week and are within a 15-mile radius of a composting facility.

But according to Powell, the main reason the composting initiative will start July 1 is that the date marks the start of Brown’s fiscal year. The University has budgeted $100,000 to fund the new initiative — an expense that comes primarily from the costs of transporting and processing the compost.

As Princeton adopted composting in its campus dining halls this past fall, Brown will soon become the final Ivy League institution to implement a viable food waste composting system — which will be a permanent adjustment, Powell said.

“It’s a culture change,” Powell said. “Culture change doesn’t happen overnight; it takes years. We need to make sure that students leaving the University have these skills that they take with them into the real world.”


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