Dining Hall Compost Program Still in the Works

    The contents of the new, brightly labeled composting bins at Sierra Summit and other dining halls are disposed of along with regular trash due to the absence of a large-scale composting site at UCSD. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    When the campus dining facilities opened their doors this year, visitors found new bins designated for compostable items placed alongside the usual trash and recycling receptacles. However, because a large-scale campus-composting program has yet to be established at UCSD, the contents of these new bins are currently disposed of as trash.

    The only active composting area available on campus is a student-operated facility located next to the Challenge Course in east campus.

    Run by student organization the Compostables — in coordination with Housing & Dining Services, Auxillary and Plant Services and Plant Management ­— the project was founded last year on a site temporarily made available by Director of Sports Facilities Donald E. Chadwick.

    According to Compostables member and Thurgood Marshall College senior June Reyes, the small-scale site will begin collecting preconsumer material, which is waste material produced during food preparation (such as vegetable clippings), from a yet-to-be-determined dining facility later this month. The organization also plans to begin composting preconsumer waste from the Faculty Club.

    “Although the dining halls haven’t begun composting food waste entirely, it is a good first step forward on educating students and creating habits of separating compostable food waste so that when composting begins it will be done most efficiently,” Reyes said. “By the end of the school year we will be able to compost 100 pounds of food waste efficiently at the composting site.”

    The Compostables are also investigating the merits of various composting methods, such as vermicomposting, the use of specially bred earthworms to break down organice material, and will soon make a recommendation as to which methodology best suits UCSD.

    “We are striving to compost food waste campuswide in the next two years either on campus or off campus, depending on the research and outcomes of the current composting project,” Reyes said. “Composting will happen at UCSD, it’s just a matter of how we do it, where we do it, and how soon we do it.”

    Campus Sustainability Coordinator Maggie Souder said the program will include all campus food wastes, adding that the location of the current small-scale composting site is temporary and that the space has already been allocated for another function.

    She explained that a large-scale composting site can be planned either on or off campus.

    “We’re moving as fast as we can but [there are] limited options and space on campus,” Souder said.

    Both Souder and Reyes are unsure of how long-term plans to expand composing will play out.

    “We’re concentrating on meeting our goal that we have right now,” Reyes said of the program’s hopes to compost 100 pounds of food by the end of the year. “Future plans aren’t certain. It all depends on the research and the outcomes when we finish.”

    Souder, though also unsure of where future plans might lead, suggested the possibility of incorporating methods such as vermiculture and biodigestion.

    “We’re going to do a study,” Souder said. “That may mean hiring a consultant who’s familiar with different alternatives for industrial-scale composting who can make a recommendation specific to the needs of UCSD.”

    According to Souder, sustainability efforts on campus will focus on diverting 100 percent of waste through a combination of recycling and composting by 2020, and establishing a program that will be sustainable over an extended period of time.

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