Composting comes to campus

Environmentalists on campus can rejoice  — UW finally has composting. Two years in the making, a pilot project for composting has begun in the environment buildings.

In September 2012, the Waterloo Environment Student Endowment Fund (WESEF) approved approximately $12,000 in funding for the project, originally proposed by a former Environment Students Society president. From that funding, $10,000 went to the purchase of an Actium compost drum, which is now painted with cow print and is sitting outside the southwest corner of ML.

The project is currently being operated by a small group of students, mostly from the environment faculty. They are all volunteers and most have been involved with the project since the very beginning.

&ldquo;The hardest part was getting approval from Plant Ops,&rdquo; said Brandon Caron, part of the volunteer collective.<br />
&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t really take student initiatives very seriously and we didn&rsquo;t really have anything to prove,&rdquo; said volunteer, Mike Hager.

One aspect that has held up the project is the type of composting system that the collective wanted, which they have now succeeded in introducing.

Laurier contracts out their compost collection to a private waste management company who then processes the waste and sells it to farmers. The new system at UW is closed loop, meaning the compost is produced, collected, processed, and then used on campus.

&ldquo;Ours is completely [human] powered,&rdquo; said Caron, adding that no electricity or energy is used. When volunteers empty the collection bins into the larger drum they will turn a crank on the drum to help break down the waste.

&ldquo;Once it gets full we let it sit for two weeks &hellip; and once it&rsquo;s completely broken down, we&rsquo;re just going to give it back to the campus community,&rdquo; said Hager. Plant Ops has expressed interest in the compost for campus gardens, and a new community garden just launched at St. Paul&rsquo;s &mdash; they&rsquo;ll also dig in. The volunteers said the compost will be available for students too.

&ldquo;We see this as being an educational thing as well. People can see where their food comes from, where it goes, and what it can be turned in to,&rdquo; said Hager.

The compost collective said they also have support from UW Food Services. The pilot project is isolated to the environment buildings &mdash; five bins to be specific. One of those is in Williams Caf&eacute; in EV3, which is for the food waste generated by the preparation behind the counter.

&ldquo;[Food Services] has been really receptive,&rdquo; said Caron. The compost collective hopes to eventually expand across campus and into residences, so the support from Food Services is a big step.

The volunteers, currently just a small group, know they will, at some point, need more volunteers. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve stuck to a small team just so we can get it off the ground,&rdquo; said Hager.

A big part of their initiative will be in education. UW has many international students who may not be familiar with composting, as well as students who live in apartment or townhouse complexes, many of which do not have regional compost pickup. The collective will partner with the ecology lab in EV 1 to provide educational programs about how compost works and what is compostable.

For those who don&rsquo;t know, any organic item is compostable, meaning all food waste, paper towels, tissues, and plant waste. The Region of Waterloo waste management website has a comprehensive list of compostable items.

&ldquo;An important aspect of this initiative is that it&rsquo;s sustainable long-term,&rdquo; said Caron. Their goal is to continue finding people who will commit to the project and eventually become leaders.

For more information on the project and to learn how to get involved, visit