By Joanna Sperapani
Elm Staff Writer
Members of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) have spent hours engaging students to separate compostable materials from other food. This is one of the first steps in an overarching SEA plan to create an efficient composting program here at Washington College.
Lately, the SEA has been dedicated to the education of the WC campus on food waste and compostable materials; several informational flyers have been distributed across the campus that point to the necessity of reusing as many goods as possible. They have also created a new composting pilot program in partnership with Dining Services.
The program has three main tenants, as relayed by Emily Castle, vice president of SEA and co-chair of the Food Waste Reduction Committee.
“We respect the resources and human labor that produce our food, we strive to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (methane) from rotting food at landfills, and we want to return valuable nutrients to our soils at the campus garden,” she said.
Lizzie Massey, co-chair of the Food Waste Reduction Committee, and the newly elected president of the SEA, spoke on the club’s rationale for focusing on composting.
“We continue to fight food waste because of the great impact that it has on people and the environment. When we keep food out of landfills, we help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We also show respect for the people who made the food, and help feed those who might go hungry without it.”
Director of Dining Services Don Stanwick is a big supporter of the composting program, and believes that it has the potential to grow substantially.
“Ideally, we produce enough that we want to grow the composting program and continue to get more use out of the food. Maybe supply compost to the local farmers, or work with Eastern Shore Food Lab in the future, or be able grow food out of the campus garden that can then be used sustainably here on campus to feed students,” Stanwick said.
Castle said that the composting plan has been in the works for several years. They currently have a two-pronged effort, which includes establishing a composting program at WC and contributing to food recovery through a newly established chapter of the Food Recovery Network.
“Recycling and composting efforts have a history within SEA and on campus, but have ultimately ended in failure due to ephemeral leadership among students and staff. Through the establishment of a dedicated committee, which allows for more involvement, accountability, and leadership among members, we hope that our goals and efforts will be continued year to year.”
This semester, the SEA was able to purchase two 33-gallon bright yellow bins and compostable bag liners that they are using for their composting project. So far, the program has been extremely successful. It is dependent upon the volunteers that help students separate compostable materials.
“Our committee members are volunteering in shifts during lunch hours nearly every day of the week to collect the compostable food scraps from people’s plates. In the first week and half, we approximate that we diverted about 305 pounds of food waste to the compost pile,” Castle said.
Although the eventual goal is to create a sustainable, long-term composting system, the focus for the moment is educating the students.
“Only certain foods can feed the pile, which means generally excluding meat, fish, dairy, and excessively oily and fried foods. These foods attract unwanted vermin and animals, don’t break down as easily, and cause bad smells,” Castle said.
One aspect of the educational focus is the poster campaign launched in April. Titled Crappy Composting, this series informs the students about what they can compost and the purpose of reusing food waste. The SEA is also looking ahead to the upcoming freshman orientation, and plans on distributing an infographic explaining how to compost to the incoming class.
The SEA has several green initiatives, such as the campus garden, the George Goes Green program, the Earthen Oven, and their overall goals of environmental outreach and immersion. They have also been successful in their recent campaign for a director of sustainability position to be added to the staff and the installation of water bottle refill stations across campus.
Stanwick repeatedly praised the plans and dedication of the SEA.
“SEA has done a tremendous job of starting an education program for the students, to try to talk more about it and get students more aware. We’re looking at ways in the future to make it more routine…. It’s exciting to see where it’s going… Right now the program is still new. When people are more acclimated to composting, we would like to have an area where people can just do it themselves. The SEA has spearheaded this whole thing and done an amazing job, we’re really supporting them,” he said.
The SEA also commends Stanwick’s efforts.
Massey said, “We wouldn’t have been able to make such great strides without Don’s eagerness and willingness to help.”
If interested in becoming involved with the food waste reduction and composting efforts of the SEA, contact Emily Castle (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lizzie Massey (email@example.com) to learn about volunteer opportunities.