Digging into composting

UMD is getting greener and greener every year, and it’s not because the trees and plants are more vibrant since last May.

Over the summer, the Office of Sustainability worked with the Facilities Management and Student Life to add two new composting bins in the Kirby Hallway to go along with the other four that were installed last May, making a total of six throughout UMD.

The other four composting bins are located in the Wedge, the Bus Hub, the Northern Shores Coffee Shop and across from ITSS in the Kirby Plaza.

The total cost was around $4,000. Half was paid for with the UMD Strategic Plan Grant and the other by Facilities Management.

The bins themselves are products of recycled waste: milk cartons. Now students have the option to either recycle, throw away or compost their waste while on campus.

The bins are part of an effort to make UMD a greener campus, and to reduce the amount of money spent on trash.

“We’re educating future leaders about how to take care of the environment and save money,” said Mindy Granley, the UMD Sustainability Coordinator.

By composting waste, there is less trash, meaning less trash to pay for. If UMD produced half the amount of trash it already does, it would save $20,000 in annual carrying and disposal costs, according to the Office of Sustainability’s website.

On the other hand, compostable waste is much cheaper than trash. Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) accepts it free of charge. The only cost is for hauling the compost to the waste center.

Once the compostable waste reaches WLSSD, it is turned into compost within weeks to months. It can then be used as a fertilizer or soil amendment.

In a landfill, trash takes lifetimes to decay– even compostable trash.

“You put a compostable cup in a trash bin and what do you think happens? Nothing,” WLSSD Environmental Program Director AJ Axtel said during the “Trash Talk” presentation at Bulldog Welcome Week.  “Instead of burying it and letting it break down, landfills are preserving it.”

 Although composting is environmentally friendly and could potentially save a lot of money for UMD, it is a difficult process to manage. Contamination by non-compostable waste is one bump in the road.

“If there is too much contamination in the compost bin, WLSSD will reject it and then it goes to the landfill,” Granley said.

Non-compostable waste includes plastic: watch out for straws, the foam plates from Taste of Italia and the waxy soda cups in the Food Court.

 The other challenge to overcome is educating students about composting at UMD.

“People are going to come to UMD and it’s different,” Granley said. “A lot people don’t compost or sort their trash at home.”

At first, the new concept was confusing for many freshmen during the Bulldog Welcome Week lunches where the Office of Sustainability provided compostable utensils, containers and food.

“At first I thought the cups were trash,” freshman Jack Patton said. “But then they turned out to be compostable.”

Each lunch had large yellow compost bins that filled up quickly. Once the bins were full, the freshmen would throw their containers away in the trash instead of placing them next to the bins on the ground.

“This was an issue the first day, but then I told them I was mad, so they changed and got better,” said Bridget Kirby, a senior and Rockstar Coordinator for the Office for Students in Transition. “There was a lot less trash by the end.

The Office of Sustainability hopes to see students continuing to use the compost bins.

“Just pretend that composting is like recycling,” Granley said. “It’s just as easy.”

Compostable items include food waste, tea bags and coffee grounds, paper towels, utensils and plates from the Food Court and the coffee cups from the Northern Shores Coffee Shop and the Food Court.

BY ALOYSIA POWER power270@d.umn.edu

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