Composting is recognized as one of the easiest ways to prevent food waste in today’s world. According to EPA Food Recovery Hierarchymore sustainable options exist – such as source reduction, feeding excess food to hungry people or animals, and converting to biofuels – but where these options are not possible, composting is the most sustainable way. effective in helping to reduce food waste and create fertile new soil.
This practice not only helps keep food waste out of a landfill – where the carbon will be wasted – but it also creates nutrient-rich soil ready for planting. This soil is often high in nitrogen and phosphorus, minimizing the need for additional fertilizers before planting. A 2015 EPA study suggests that national waste consists of 26.5% paper products, 7.5% wood, 7.6% yard waste and 16.4% scraps of food.. All of these products flow into landfills, year after year, releasing methane which may or may not be captured or used.
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The University of Wisconsin created a composting program in 2008 by collecting food scraps from dining halls. These scraps were sent to West Madison Agricultural Research Station to convert. This program composted successfully for years, until loads began to become contaminated with silverware and other non-compostable materials, forcing the facility to send these loads to landfill. UW overcame these challenges by switching facilities and choosing to go through a anaerobic digestion plant Instead.
Contamination of compost loads is an ongoing concern when running a composting program, but the digester seems to alleviate most concerns. Fortunately, this digester made it possible to control the amount of contamination via a sorter called a deconditioner.
But that agreement ended on July 30, 2021 when the university’s contract was canceled with the biogas company, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of them offers have been sent through the university to other private composting facilities, but both were rejected, leaving school without the possibility of sending their remains. At the time of this publication, UW still has no plans to relaunch a composting program, only offering affected students a survey to fill.
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For a school with a world-renowned environmental science institute, not having a composting program comes as a surprise. We can do better.
Many universities across the country have refused to hire private companies to process their compost and have opted for self-run full-cycle composting programs. the University of Maine and Lincoln University in Nebraska have both chosen to install in-vessel composting systems on campus and have had great success in their programs. The UW could easily buy one of these ships with the help of a state grant, reaffirming its position as the top environmental science school.
Students can lobby the university to reintroduce a composting program by completing the survey on the Office of Sustainable Development website and by emailing administrators directly. By reimplementing compounding at UW, we can help maintain a more sustainable campus and help divert food waste on a large scale.
Krister Martensson ([email protected]) is a second-year student majoring in environmental science.