Composting at Colorado State University is on the rise

Ashley Haberman

Sarah Ross, a biology student with a concentration in ecology and also a member of the Eco Leader program developed a program that gave students compost bins in their rooms with the aim of reducing food waste and distinguishing what should be recycled or not.
Sarah Ross, a biology student with a concentration in ecology and also a member of the Eco Leader program developed a program that gave students compost bins in their rooms with the aim of reducing food waste and distinguishing what should be recycled or not. (Photo credit: Caio Pereira.)

The Colorado State University Dining Halls serves about 12,000 meals per day, creating a lot of food waste. CSU is taking steps to not waste any extra food, but to compost it instead. 

“With OSCAR, our thirty yard in vessel composting system, we’ve been able to utilize it to its capacity,” said Tim Broderick, senior sustainability coordinator. “We diverted a third to 50 percent of our food waste within the first two years of OSCAR.”

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Tossing the trimmings of veggies and peels of fruit into the black trash-like bin in the backyard could be what comes to mind for most people when thinking about composting, but on a bigger scale like composting on campus there is more that goes into it.

“Pre-consumer food waste is things like salad trimmings and raw foods,” said Tonie Miyamoto, director of communications and sustainability for housing and dining. “They all go to OSCAR and make up around twenty to thirty percent of the overall food waste. Seventy percent of the food waste is composted through pulpers and is made up of plate waste, bones, and things that aren’t edible and pulpers help break it down.”

According to Broderick, the pulp waste gets sent to Drake Wastewater Treatment Plant where it gets used to make energy in the form of methane to run their facility. With both of these strategies combined makes up a 93 percent diverting rate for the dining halls on campus.

This semester, a new pilot for composting on campus is up and running.

“The pilot is a project I’ve been working on through the EcoLeader program for a year now,” biology and journalism major Sarah Ross wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I started last semester by collecting a survey from students on campus about the climate for composting and I got an overwhelmingly positive response, with more than 70 percent of respondents being totally pro-composting.”

According to Ross, two types of composting collection bins have been placed in the rooms of one floor in Pinon Hall. One bin has a carbon filter in the lid that will help mediate the potential smell of the compostables, and the other is a bin with a normal lid. The bins are taken out with the students’ recycling and trash, and the compost is then sent off with the dining hall compost to OSCAR at the CSU Foothills Campus.

“I really believe that this composting pilot can develop into a campus-wide project that I can grow into a legacy, and that running this pilot will help our university set an example for other universities and show that sustainability on a grand scale can be possible,” Ross wrote.

With the enormous amount of food being composted at CSU, students, faculty and staff are given the opportunity to get their hands on some.

“We use the vast majority back on campus,” Broderick said. “With all the construction going on and the massive plant installs we’ve been using a ton of our compost. We also give it away as a part of earth week-students, faculty and staff can bring two five gallon buckets and fill them up.”

A third proposal is also underway that would make composting available for many other buildings on campus.

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“The project would expand the composting system through a WINDROW system which uses rows of compost that get turned, are monitored and watered but without all the casing like OSCAR so the volume could be so much greater,” Miyamoto said.

With the array of projects already in operation and those still in the works, composting on campus is thriving.

“My main goal at CSU would be to make an impact,” Ross wrote. I want nothing more than to help to improve the campus for the generations of students behind me, and to leave a mark in a way that is truly beneficial to the university as a whole.”

Collegian Reporter Ashley Haberman can be reached at news@collegian.com.