University composting: One man’s trash is another man’s dirt

The destiny of your pizza crusts, your banana peels and eventually your body.

By Molly Marcot

You’ve probably seen a compost pile before: A bin or trash can full of banana peels, dirt and grass clippings, rotting in the sun behind some hippie’s treehouse. Now imagine that setup, except instead of a hippie, it’s an entire university, and instead of a trash can, it’s thousands and thousands of pounds of waste.

That’s what Dining Services has been up to.

Last year, 138 tons of compost were produced on the campus, according to recycling and solid waste coordinator Bill Guididas. As of this August, this year’s figure has already nearly doubled to about 260 tons.

The art of composting can be achieved in just a few steps: collect “organic material waste” (typically food scraps and paper products), add water, mush to a pulp and let microorganisms in the soil break it down into black mush, then use it as an all-natural fertilizer. And with the university’s three dining halls shipping out compostables every week, there’s a lot of garbage pulp made of UMD food.

Facilities Management trucks transport the pulped raw material 40 miles north to Woodbine’s Recycled Green, the area’s closest large-scale organic waste recycler, according to Dining Services Sustainability Coordinator Allison Lilly. She also said the university often buys back the compost and uses it in the on-campus gardens.

But even with 52,000 pounds of food being shipped out already this year, Lilly said there was still a long way to go, particularly with sorting trash, recycling and compost in the dining areas. The dining services staff has been trained to separate compostables that are left on returned trays, Lilly said, and she said this semester she’d like to focus on a campus outreach to get students informed about composting and other forms of waste reduction.

It’s not just to make them smarter: When students dump refuse in the wrong dining hall containers (compost, recycle or trash), the bag has to be sent to the dump no matter what else is inside. So when you mess up your composting, you mess up everyone’s composting.

For now, Lilly said if students are looking to best support the composting efforts in the dining halls they should eat in and use the tray return to send their trash to the kitchen staff where it can be properly separated.

“We’ve accomplished a lot, but we’re not exactly where we need to be as far as composting,” she said.

You can also check out Campus Drive on Facebook and on Twitter at @theDBK.

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