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CSU student Maggie Gilman composts with passion

After a long day of classes, Maggie Gilman, a senior studying Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, puts on her blue overalls, steel-toed boots, a hat, a pair of gloves, and makes her way out to the Colorado State University Foothills campus where she will spend the next few hours of her day composting food waste.

Maggie Gilman raking a pile of compost.
Out at the CSU Foothills Research Campus near Laporte, Maggie Gilman, a CSU compost intern rakes a pile of compost. The piles of compost can reach 131 degrees due to microbes in the soil breaking down organic material (Erica Giesenhagen | Collegian).

“Right away you can smell what degrading food smells like,” Gilman said. “I look around and appreciate where I am. It’s very beautiful out there.”

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The Foothills campus is home to CSU’s composting machine nicknamed OSCAR, which has been running since 2011. OSCAR receives food waste from around campus and composts it. According to Housing and Dining Services, OSCAR receives 2,000 pounds of waste a day and has helped divert 93 percent of food waste away from landfills.

“When I get out of my car it’s so nice to greet OSCAR because this in-vessel is so old,” Gilman said. “It’s at the end of its lifespan, so we call him ‘OSCAR the grouch’ because he can be grouchy.” 

According to Gilman, composting is important because it is better for the environment. In comparison to landfills, where organic waste will rot and produce high levels of methane, composted organic waste produces significantly less methane and therefore is less harmful to the environment. Gilman also said composting has become important in agriculture as a way to replenish nutrients to crop soils.

More importantly, Haley Dallas, the deputy director of environmental for the Associated Students of Colorado State University, and Gilman both agree the closing of the Larimer County landfill by 2025 as another reason to compost because composting diverts waste from landfills.

“It’s important to compost, first because our landfill is filling up,” Gilman said. “We’re either going to have to build another landfill or send our trash to another county. For that reason and various other reasons the push toward diverting different streams, not just recycling but, organic matter is pretty big.”

For Gilman, composting food waste is more than just a job.

“It’s doing something that’s meaningful to me on an environmental advocacy level, while also thoroughly enjoying all of the physical, manual labor that goes into it,” Gilman said. “Sometimes I have to get in there and step on all the dirty waste with my big boots. It’s fun and entertaining.”

According to Gilman, some days require more work than others based on the amount of waste that needs to be composted, but the outcome makes it all worth it.

“Some days I have so many bins I feel like I’m going to be there forever, and some days (there’s) not so many, and that’s when the work begins,” Gilman said. “I take a 65 gallon bin, which is transported from campus to (the facility) and I attach it to the tote loader, which essentially lifts up the bin weighing three to four hundred pounds …  and it tosses it inside. That’s the most beautiful part, because all of the colorful foods splashes on top of brown degrading soil, and I know the next day that I come all that material will be brown as well.”

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Dallas said the push for composting is important because it makes individuals think about waste in a different way.

“It’s a much better way to dispose of our organic waste,” Dallas said. “I also personally like composting because it gets people thinking about zero waste. Then every single time someone has a single use plastic utensil, and they’re throwing it away, people start to realize how much trash actually goes through their possession in a day.”

By the end of her day, Gilman gets to watch the sunset and reflect on her day’s work.

“A lot of times I go after a day of classes which means I’m out there catching the sunset,” Gilman said. “Sunsets on the Front Range are very beautiful and it’s a great way to reflect and think about my day while taking care of the waste that was created on campus.”

Collegian reporter Jorge Espinoza can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @jorgespinoza14.

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