Town, gown and trash: Improving composting at the College and in Williamstown

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Given the substantive lack of composting options in and around the College and Williamstown as a whole, we at the Record believe that the College and town should develop a more holistic solution to managing and reducing waste. We hope that productive solutions will prioritize waste reduction, awareness and stewardship in the community. 

Composting is a process by which organic matter is broken down to create natural fertilizer for farmers, as well as to fill for construction projects. By diverting compostable waste such as food or Vegware products from the landfill, composting also reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas.

Conversations with environmental leaders on campus pointed us towards several steps the College should take. First, the Record calls for a town-wide increase in the number of composting receptacles. A recent op-ed submitted by Niku Darafshi ’21 (“The failures of Williamstown’s plastic ban: On the negative environmental impacts of using Vegware,” Oct, 9 2019) raised concerns regarding the general lack of composting receptacles. 

For instance, despite the implementation of a town-wide plastic ban that led to local businesses providing compostable bioplastic containers instead, there are no compost bins on Spring Street, causing the majority of compostable products to go into landfills instead of industrial compost sites. Additionally, the only available compost bins around campus are at the dining halls, behind the ’66 Environmental Center, and in a few co-ops that choose to manage compost bins, causing students who use compostable to-go boxes and cups to simply dispose of them in landfill trash. We hope that there will be conversations among the College, the town and local businesses to implement a holistic composting plan that will make composting efficient and accessible across Williamstown. 

Second, we believe that while composting is important, reduction of waste is even more crucial. We should focus on reducing the use of single-use plastics and reducing food waste, not just properly composting. For example, as part of the College’s strategic planning process and work towards its 2020 sustainability goals, we can build on recent efforts to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles from all catered campus events, by instead providing 3- and 5-gallon reusable jugs to reduce plastic bottle usage by approximately 18,000 bottles. 

When surplus does exist, the College should work towards solutions to repurpose excess. For example, the Record commends the work done by WRAPS (Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus), a student group that packages and delivers leftover dining hall food into individual meals to community partners in North Adams, for its efforts to reduce food waste.

Furthermore, students should take greater care when separating compostable and non-compostable waste accordingly. When non-compostable items contaminate compost, the batch is unusable and has to be thrown away. 

More broadly, waste reduction is at the end of the day a personal solution, and composting is not a cure-all. There needs to be a cultural shift so we can think more critically about the problem of waste and on the College’s broader responsibilities for its corporate environmental impact.

When you’re done reading this, please compost this copy of the Record! Newspaper is compostable.   

The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board.