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Saint Mary’s implements weekly composting initiative

| Thursday, April 16, 2015

For their Environmental Studies capstone project, juniors Valerie Stacey and Taylor TenBrock have initiated a composting project at Saint Mary’s.

“The idea of composting appealed to us because we are environmental studies majors and we are constantly hearing about environmental issues,” Stacey said. “A big issue that occurred to me is that the amount of food waste that gets sent to a landfill is insane, and as a college campus, we produce tremendous amounts of waste.”

According to TenBrock, it took time, effort and multiple meetings to get the project up and running. The two juniors acquired a location for the pile, which is located near Saint Mary’s soccer fields. The task of taking the compost to the site is performed once per week by volunteers using a golf cart, TenBrock said.

The biggest challenge to the project is raising student awareness and stimulating interest, Stacey and TenBrock said. Their goal is to turn composting into a task students do automatically, Stacey said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic materials continue to be the largest component of municipal solid waste. When organic materials, such as food, are dumped into a landfill, they are compressed and decompose anaerobically, taking unnecessary years to decompose. In contrast, composted waste decomposes in an average of four months. As a result of the anaerobic process of landfill usage, methane gas is emitted. Methane is known as a more environmentally hazardous gas than carbon dioxide, and methane gas from landfills accounts for 34 percent of all methane emissions.

Stacey predicts success of the composting project would result in a 25 percent reduction of waste entirely from the college.

“It’s incredible because it is such a simple practice,” Stacey said.

“Instead of putting food into the garbage, you put it into the earth. Instead of putting it into a landfill where it produces methane, you put it into the ground where it turns into this amazing, rich, nutrient soil that you can then use in a garden to produce more food.

“It also saves you money on your garbage bill.”

Every Thursday, with the help from the Environmental Studies department, dining hall staff and grounds staff, a composting bin will be placed next to the tray return where students are encouraged to toss in their unwanted fruits, vegetables, breads, egg shells and tea bags.

Stacey said she sees this project having a wider impact than just Saint Mary’s,

“Reducing the amount of food waste on Saint Mary’s campus could serve as a blueprint for other larger organizations and college campuses,” Stacey said.

The soil produced through composting will be used to benefit Saint Mary’s Unity Garden, Holy Cross’ Unity Garden and local farmers, TenBrock said.

“Cycles like this are sustainable, ensuring a source of soil for farmers to grow more food that we can consume and then give back to grow more,” Stacey said.

“It just makes sense to do this.”

 

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