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Food compost plan started by student

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On average, Notre Dame students waste 5.03 ounces of food every meal. So junior Sarah Cline is working to implement a composting system, in which food wasted in the dining halls would be converted into fertilizer, instead of rotting in a landfill.

Cline, a junior and member of GreeND, won the United Nations’ “Climate Crews” competition with the help of last semester’s GreeND president Lourdes Long. The competition called for students to submit a plan to improve the environmental impact of their school.

Cline entered a proposal to change the way the University’s dining halls get rid of food waste.

“There is a lot of food waste in the dining halls that can’t be recycled, but it’s better if it’s not just thrown in a landfill,” she said. “They can use it as fertilizer and it’s really helpful.”

About half of colleges and universities nationwide have a composting system, Cline said, but Notre Dame currently has no system in place.

“At this point, all of the waste in the dining hall gets thrown away,” she said.

As one of 10 winners of the contest, Cline will receive $500 to market her plan on campus and a free trip to Washington D.C. for a workshop to teach her how to implement it.

Cline said she was encouraged to enter the contest by Long.

“I was not expecting to win,” she said. “I was really shocked when I got that e-mail.”

Cline said she already began working with the Office of Sustainability, and the University will invest in a composting system.

“We are not sure how it will all work out yet,” she said. “It’s something that’s going to happen for sure, I’m just not sure when.”

The contest required Cline’s proposal to be based on the grades given to the University by the Sustainability Report Card, which evaluates Notre Dame’s environmental footprint in various areas. Cline said the University received a low transportation grade, but she thought her project would have a bigger impact by addressing the food and recycling category.

“The proposal needed to have originality and feasibility,” she said. “We didn’t get a great grade in transportation, and there are a lot of ways Notre Dame could improve it, but Lourdes and I couldn’t think of a project concrete enough.”

Cline said composting is simple process that will be a big step towards achieving sustainability at Notre Dame.

One goal for implementing the project is to garner a lot of student support, she said, in keeping with Notre Dame’s high grade for the category on the Sustainability Report Card.

“We got an A for student involvement, so we want to really emphasize that,” she said. “That’s something that has really been working for us so far.”

The first step is to make students aware of the amount of food they waste on a daily basis in order to gain support and action from students. Cline said she will use the $500 she won to create a media campaign to raise awareness.

“Basically, the only way that the University would ever commit to something this big is knowing that students actually care about it and comply with it,” she said.

Students will participate in different ways, possibly by removing food items that can be composted before discarding their trays.

“We will let students know how they can help,” she said.

Cline said Notre Dame has put in a lot of effort to improve the University’s sustainability, the biggest stride being the creation of the Office of Sustainability last year. Two years ago, Notre Dame had one of the lowest scores compared to other universities on the Sustainability Report Card.

“We recently had the biggest two-year improvement for any school,” Cline said. “We are moving up a lot.”