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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Compost bins installed in dorm rooms following student-led effort

The new compost buckets are specifically designed with odor-cancelling ventilation. // Photo by Jaden Moon

By Samuel Fletcher

This week Western is launching a university-wide compost program which will put state-of-the-art bins in every dorm room on campus.

The effort was completely student-led.

Students Jessica Loveland, Abby Severns and Risa Askerooth are mentors in the Sustainability Representative Program, located in Western’s Office of Sustainability. As such, they were tasked with doing a year-long project focused on improving sustainability.

During her freshman year, Loveland took it upon herself to make a compost bucket and walk it to the nearest food-waste bin on campus, she said. Making the ecologically-conscious activity more accessible to other students seemed like a no-brainer to her.

“It was just common practice for me,” Loveland said. “When I came up here and that wasn’t accessible that was like the strange part, rather than actually doing those things being the strange part, which is the case for some residents.”

The students first coordinated compost-sorting and bucket-decorating events and noticed an interest among other dorm residents, Loveland said. To move the project forward, the next step was to look into funding.

Loveland, Severns and Askerooth initially submitted the project grant request to the Sustainability Action Fund in October 2017, Loveland said.

Then they went to housing administrators, the facility operations manager and custodians to fine-tune the plan, University Residences Associate Director Terence Symonds said. When the plan was brought to the Residence Hall Association and various hall councils, all expressed unanimous support for it.

The team looked at the cost of labor and materials and condensed the concept to a 5-year program, at which point they would reassess the budget depending on the need, Symonds said.

For the cost of the buckets, biodegradable liners and custodial labor, they calculated the cost for the 5-year period to be about $74,000, he said. The approved grant request covered $41,000 of this, and University Housing covered the remaining portion.

“At the end of the day, it made sense to launch this thing,” Symonds said.

One compost bucket will be distributed to each room, he said. While student participation in the compost program is voluntary, residents will be encouraged to empty the buckets at least once a week.

The program is set up to run from September through June of each of the five years, at which point custodians will wash the compost buckets and put them in storage until the following academic year, Symonds said.

After the team listened to student concerns at the council meetings, two primary issues needed to be addressed: fruit flies and odor, Loveland said. Because of this, her team spent a lot of time deciding on the perfect buckets.

They settled on one of the more expensive options, Loveland said. Manufactured by a company called Orbis, the bins are specially designed with odor-cancelling ventilation.

Another aspect of the project is compost education, she said. This is what sets this project apart from similar ones in the past where students would have to take the initiative to find out about the program and obtain the available materials.

“Other universities do have similar programs to that, where students can opt into it,” Loveland said. “But we didn’t feel that that made it fully accessible to all students, because students would have to be fairly ecologically-minded to want to do that.”

Their goal is to develop an environmentally-conscious culture in which students who might not have thought about composting before get inspired to participate, she said. Another aspect that sets the program apart is that it has the potential to be sustainable over decades.

Nash resident Waverly Kenny said if they were available, he would definitely use the compost bins. Aside from compost being easier to sort than trash and recycling, he thinks it could actually eliminate some of the concerns present in the trash and recycling bins.

“In one of my friends’ room, he has a lot of fruit in there, and he is always getting fruit flies and whatnot, like his room is infested right now with them,” Kenny said. “The bins would definitely be a big help.”

Aside from reducing greenhouse gasses, the program will have economic and social benefits as well, Loveland said.

Compost is cheaper to collect than landfill waste, she said. Further, it can be resold into the community.

Additionally, landfills are also disproportionately located in communities with higher populations of people of color and lower socioeconomic statuses, she said. Launching the program could also help relieve some of the burden on those communities by diverting waste away from landfills.

The program would not be possible without the dedication of the students, Symonds said.

“I’ve been here four years, but I think we have the right people here now that pushed it forward and wanted to go global with it,” he said. “Hopefully the next batches of Jessicas and Risas and Abbeys have the same passion as them.”

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