College composting program expanded

The Purple Druids, in conjunction with Dining Services, are attempting to heighten environmental awareness with the expansion of the College’s composting program. In addition to preparation scraps, leftover food from the kitchen and paper napkins, students can compost food from their plates.

“It is a great step for the environmental accountability of the College,” Co-Chair of the Composting Committee Katherine Birnie ’00 said. “It is making the College a more environmentally responsible place.”

The new phase of the composting program began November 4 in all five dining halls.

The College produces over 2000 pounds of food waste a day. Before the introduction of plate scrapings, composting reused approximately 40 percent of food waste daily.

Co-Chair of the Composting Committee Tanu Kumar ’01 hopes to see the daily figure rise 400 to 500 pounds with the introduction of plate scrapings. “We shouldn’t be throwing food away,” Kumar said. “We should be using it for a better purpose.”

Since its start in 1994, the student-initiated composting program has expanded greatly. The pilot program collected preparation scraps and kitchen leftovers and composted them behind Dodd House. In 1996, the Purple Druids added Driscoll and Mission to the program and set up a van service to collect the compost to take to Caretaker Farm, an organic community supported farm on Water Street. Greylock and Baxter joined the other dining halls in composting in 1998.

However, the amount of compost the College produced was too much for Caretaker Farm to handle, so the Purple Druids hired an outside hauler to bring food waste to a professional composting company. A change in haulers this year to the Master Garbologist in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, caused a bit of a delay in the implementation of the new composting stage.

“We are all having a problem about this trash,” Associate Director of Operations for Dining Service Alexandre da Silva said. “What do we do with this trash that we are generating? Where does this trash go? Do we have enough sites to accommodate this kind of volume? Dining Services feels responsible to play a role in the overall support of our environment and one way of doing that is to…support a strong composting program to alleviate the issue of a lack of trash sites.”

Raising awareness is an important aspect of the Purple Druids’ composting efforts. “My hope is to make students more aware of what they are leaving on their plates and how much food they are throwing out,” Birnie said.

Some debate exists over who should fund the composting program. Currently, the Center for Environmental Studies (CES), Buildings and Grounds (B&G) and Dining Services split the $5000 annual budget. The budget includes the cost of the hauler’s transporting the food waste from campus to the composting company and the salaries of student workers who, for work-study, pick up and bring the food filled bins to Spring Street for the hauler to transport.

“CES really shouldn’t have to fund this,” Birnie said. “It is an operation cost that B&G and the administration should be paying for.”

According to Kumar, the Composting Committee is approaching the Vice President’s Office for funds.

Both the Composting Committee and Dining Services have many plans for the future to expand the composting program and to make the campus more environmentally responsible. A composting site on campus where students take the leftover food, compost it and use it to grow food to be used in the dining halls hovers as an appealing vision before Purple Druids. Birnie and Kumar point to nearby Middlebury College as an institution that implements this process.

According to da Silva, Dining Services wishes to carry out more waste-free outdoor picnics, an innovation begun recently in conjunction with the Purple Druids. Da Silva wants make the Underground Express more environmentally friendly by replacing paper bags with reusable cloth lunch sacks and encouraging the recycling of soda cans and plastic sandwich containers. Jarring people out of complacency is a goal of the environmentally driven Druids. “In our daily lives we are very self-absorbed,” Kumar said. “The act of just scraping your own plate will trigger people to think.”