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Morrill Tower composting program helps move university toward zero waste goal

Through the efforts of the student volunteers, the USG Sustainability Committee and administrators diverted 800 pounds of food waste from landfills from a two-week composting project alone. Credit: Lantern Photo File

As a resident in Morrill Tower, Maria Le noticed students were throwing a lot of food in the trash while dining in Morrill Traditions. It was then that she came up with the idea of composting the dining hall’s uneaten food.

Le, a member of the Undergraduate Student Government’s Sustainability Committee, proposed her idea to Deputy Director Animesh Bapat, a third-year in food, agriculture and biological engineering, who helped Le bring her idea to life. Bapat and Le’s mini-committee contacted administrators to push forward their initiative, and decided to run a two-week Morrill Composting Pilot, unsure of how successful it would be.

“We just wanted to see if composting was possible [and] if [students] could adapt to it, throw the right foods into the composting [bins], know what’s trash and what’s not trash and locate recyclables,” Le, a first-year in human resources, said.

Through the efforts of the student volunteers, the USG committee and administrators diverted 800 pounds of food waste from landfills from the two-week project alone. Le said the pilot’s success led to composting at other dining locations around campus.

“It’s hard to put composting everywhere on campus because recycling is still hard for us students to do,” Le said. “I want to start off at Morrill and see how that’s working, and if it’s amazing, then [move] it to KComm and Scott.”

One of the biggest challenges the pilot faced was the issue of contamination, Le said, and because of the low threshold for contamination, the possibility of students composting improperly posed a threat to the success of the project.

To reduce possible contamination, Kathie Serif, an associate director for dining services, proposed that student volunteers stand as “bin guards” to educate residents about composting and placing items in the various bins. Students volunteered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day during the two-week pilot to ensure that composting went smoothly.

“The students did a great job of teaching and standing guard, so to speak, to make sure that the right things went into the right containers,” Serif said. “People seemed to really embrace separating things out, and it has really not been difficult for the students to do.”

Ohio State Senior Sustainability Coordinator Mary Leciejewski said administrators hope the pilot program is able to expand and help the university move toward the university’s goal of deferring 90 percent of materials away from landfills by 2025.

Leciejewski also said administrators believe student involvement is not only beneficial to the environment, but also the community.

“It’s a way that students can be empowered every day to do the right thing,” she said. “What the pilot has shown is that if you give students access to do the right thing and equip them with knowledge, they are enthusiastic and happy to participate.”

Until USG is able to expand the program to other dining locations, Le said she hopes to develop full composting at Morrill Traditions in the next year or two.

“I definitely would not graduate until dining hall composting is implemented here at OSU,” Le said.

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