Going Green: Oxy Starts Composting Program

As part of the College's green initiative,Occidental Dining Services is now "composting everything that can be composted" including flatware and to-go containers, according to Amy Munoz, associate vice president for hospitality services.


"This includes all of the food waste, including meat, fat, and dairy, plus all of the cardboard, including waxed," Munoz explains. Paper towels, paper, cloth, and other organic items that currently end up in regular trash can also be added to the food waste. (The compostable flatware is made of corn starch.) 

Composting is a natural process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil that is great for growing plants. Anything that was once living will decompose and can be used in composting. Finished compost looks like soil-dark brown and crumbly--and smells like a forest floor. Oxy's composting program began June 1.

During the school year, about 4 1/2 tons of waste per month is picked up from Johnson Student Center. A couple of months ago, Athens Services, one of the College's waste-service providers, approached Dining Services about joining a pilot program on "complete composting." 

"It used to be that the trash compactor contents here went to a landfill, and now everything in there goes to composting," providing significant cost savings to the College, says Munoz. "What we send to landfills costs us a lot more money."

Athens provided training for the cafeteria staff, and now every station in the Marketplace has separate containers for compostable recyclables, non-compostable recyclables (glass, metal, plastic), and trash.

"Over time and with training we hope to increase the number of things that get diverted for the food-waste stream," says Bruce Steele, the College's environmental health and safety manager.

"The staff has reacted to this just fine," Munoz says of the new program. "We were recycling anyway, since we opened in 1998. The staff was used to it. So it was just a matter of learning different items to separate." Athens reported back to the cafeteria staff that in their first effort, "we had no discernable contamination-they diverted almost everything we sent to composting!" Munoz says.

The Cooler is not yet involved in the composting program because of logistical issues, but the College is working with Athens to try to resolve the problems, according to Steele.

Ideally, eventually Munoz would like the College to receive some of the compost back from Athens' composting facility in Victorville for use in the garden spaces throughout campus. (Students who work in FEAST, the student-run garden on campus, already pick up pre-consumer waste--fruit and vegetable peelings and coffee grounds-from Dining Services and compost it themselves, and they already have as much as they can use, Munoz says.)

"This is a really terrific thing," she says, both for the environment and for the campus.