It all started with a group of students who were committed to preserving the planet starting with taking out the trash. They began engaging the Administration in conversations about the environmental impact of solid waste. They collaborated with staff members in Facilities, called Physical Plant back in those days, to lead the College in establishing a comprehensive recycling program. With input and support from Faculty, these students convinced the Administration to implement a recycling collection system in all College buildings.
Landfills across the country were filling up and communities were fighting the opening of new landfills, including the one in Tompkins County. In order to meet the costs of siting a new landfill and closing the old one, Tompkins County initiated a “tipping fee”, money paid by anyone bringing garbage to the landfill. Never before had the College had to pay to throw away its trash, about 1750 tons per year. Student environmental activists on campus had been successfully advocating for recycling for several years as a way to reduce the waste going to landfills and conserve natural resources. The anticipated new annual cost of about $250,000 to take out the trash created the incentive for the College to invest in recycling and to look at other ways to reduce the cost of waste disposal. Since about a ton a day of the trash was food scrap, there was a financial incentive to start composting.
A researcher from Cornell University agreed to design, help build and teach us to operate an Aerated Static Pile (ASP) compost facility in a converted storage building. Equipment was purchased to mix and pile food scraps with wood chips inside the building where air was blown into the piles using electric fans. This process produced humus, the organic component of soil, in just six weeks; food scraps into dirt. It was a steep learning curve but, we were able to compost all the food scraps from all the dining halls on campus, and we still do. In 2000, we built a new facility for composting. In 2007, we started sending food scraps to Cayuga Compost, a more sustainable option than doing it on campus.
In the twenty-five years we have been composting food scraps, we have composted about 12,000,000 pounds of food scrap, roughly 98% of all the food scrap generated on campus. That is equal to 11,750 tons of CO2e we did NOT release into the atmosphere.
Most of us never see this happening. Just like most of the food preparation, food scraps from meal preparation, pre-consumer, and food left on diners plates are collected “behind the scenes” in the kitchens and dish rooms at all of our dining halls.
This is one way we contribute to the social, economic and environmental well-being of our community. It is what we do every day to enhance the Quality of Life for our community and out planet.