Proposal for windrow composting operation interdepartmentally endorsed

Julia Rentsch

Numerous Colorado State campus entities have expressed strong support for an increased-capacity composting operation that was proposed to the University Facility Fee Advisory Board March 24.

Craig Scott, 57, helps run the composting plant at the CSU Foothills Campus. (Photo Credit: Ryan Arb)
Craig Scott, 57, helps run the composting plant at the CSU Foothills Campus. (Photo Credit: Ryan Arb)

The proposed windrow composting operation at CSU’s Foothills Campus would provide considerably more space for composting food waste, grounds waste, livestock manure, EcoProducts compostable dishware, and other material. Facilities Management has requested $274,300 from UFFAB’s cash-funded projects budget to complete the project.

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This type of composting method is commonly used on farms and lays out “windrows,” which are piles of biodegradable matter, in rows that are mixed periodically by a large machine.

“This is a place where we can improve our sustainability,” said Susanne Cordery of Facilities Management. “And… if you get a compostable coffee cup at Sweet Sinsations, you can’t compost it, you have to put it in the trash. That we want to change.”

Members of the Department of Athletics, Housing and Dining Services, Outdoor Services, the Student Sustainability Center and the President’s Sustainability Committee have written letters endorsing this potential project.

According to Facilities Management, only about 30 percent of the 63 cubic yards of food waste generated per week by CSU Dining Services gets composted in the existing in-vessel facility, which is known as “Oscar.” With a windrow facility, 100 percent of this waste would be composted, and the resulting nutrient-rich soil would in turn be used to grow more food for the dining halls. 

Additionally, the new system would have the capacity to take on compostable waste from the Lory Student Center, restroom paper towels, game-day food waste from Moby Arena, animal waste from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and compostables from break rooms around campus. All of this is currently going to landfill.

“There is a lot of material going to the landfill and we’d like to change that,” said Cordery, who presented the project to UFFAB along with Addy Elliott of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and Sheela Backen, also of Facilities.

The proposal includes a description of the finished operation’s potential to be used as a “learning lab” for teaching and research, and lays out several courses from the Soil and Crop Sciences and Horticulture departments that would make use of it. 

Elliott said that the project would be of great benefit to students from several majors, including civil engineering. 

“There’s great opportunity with this project to have students learn from it, participate in it and do research with the process, because it’s ever-changing,” Elliot said. “As the inputs change…then there are tweaks that have to be made, and that’s an opportunity to critically think about a process and make decisions, and I feel as though that is what students are craving in their classrooms and their campus experience… the opportunity to think through a process and make a suggestion.”

In an email sent to Cordery in January, interim manager of Outdoor Services Rodney Gillespie expressed that his department, which is part of Facilities Management, would be able to make use of a portion of the new compost.

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Senior Associate Athletic Director Doug Max also emailed his support for the CSU-owned-and-operated composting system.

Piles of finished compost lie near the in-vessel composter known as "Oscar."(Photo Credit: Ryan Arb)
Piles of finished compost lie on the Foothills Campus near the in-vessel composter known as “Oscar.”(Photo Credit: Ryan Arb)

“Stadium events generate compostables including pre-consumer food waste (at) concession venues, post-consumer food waste, compostable cutlery and cups,” Max wrote. “We look forward to supporting this project as it moves forward.”

Clayton King, Chair of UFFAB and director of governmental affairs for the Associated Students of Colorado State University, has been examining the feasibility of university-wide composting since last semester. At ASCSU, he originally explored options for incorporating CSU’s composting needs into a city-wide composting plan, but found that it would not be feasible.

“Internalizing the process was kind of the best way to look at it from there,” King said. “This (proposal) is kind of what’s been created through that process.”

Cordery said that there are no other full-scale composting operations in Larimer County that CSU can use for its compost; few are created because of the monetary investment needed and the subsequent permitting process. 

According to King, versions of this proposal have failed in the past due to a lack of capital finances and state restrictions on material sources.

“So our first move is to see if we can get the capital funding, then we can do the permitting process, and then we’ll add the full-scale composting operation,” Cordery said.

Additionally, state regulations apply to the sale of compost by the University because the school’s large output could easily monopolize the market and out-compete local business owners.

Instead, internal operations such as Outdoor Services can make use of the compost.

“You’ve got Facilities Management, who is going to buy a lot of it for new construction,” King said. “(And) the Foothills Campus is right next to this giant chunk of land owned by the Warner College of Natural Resources that is basically a bunch of trees that they use for forestry…research, and they could actually… buy in bulk from the compost facility and literally truck it across the street to use there too.”

One problem that King said will not arise is having an excess of unusable compost.

“We have a large chunk of land out there actually, that’s why everyone was looking to us to compost there,” he said. “If it just sits there, it’s really not that big a deal…new construction down Center Avenue, in that area, will need a lot of compost, so I don’t see us having too much in the near term—within the next 15-20 years—and by then, who knows how large we’ll be anyway, so we might use all of it at that point.”

Elliott said that despite the University’s status as a sustainability leader, there is always more that could be done.

“The definition of sustainability should always change,” she said. “As we check something off, we should move forward to become more sustainable.”

The UFFAB vote concerning the funding of this project will occur on April 7.

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @julia_rentsch.