Compost Program Goes One Step Further
April 26, 2007 6:00 PM
Ryan Carney stands in the middle of Cesar Chavez Student Center holding a bowl of candy. In the midst of lunchtime chaos, he directs diners to three different waste bins and gives them an ecological lesson in the process. Then, and only then, does he offer them a treat from his bowl.
This is the composting pilot station, organized by Ecologically Concerned Organization of Students, or ECO Students. Located behind Natural Sensations, the station was a testing ground for a future composting program in the student center. The program will ensure that the compostables from students, faculty and staff will be diverted away from landfills and back into the ground via farms and vineyards.
Carney, an environmental studies major, said the test run had met with a few challenges.
“At first there was a little resistance from people,” he said. “They didn’t seem to want to have to sort their waste more than they already do with recyclables. But the candy bowl is definitely helping.”
The composting program was initially started last semester, when ECO Students, with the help of student center management, was able to get all the vendors in the center to commit to composting their food scraps. Now in phase two, the project is going one step further by out putting composting bins to encourage the center’s customers to follow in the vendors’ footsteps.
Besides directing the waste and handing out sweets, the students running the compost station also asked participants to fill out a survey about their knowledge of the city’s composting plan. The survey asked what people knew about composting and if they would be willing to compost at school.
“The biggest challenges we face are that no one knows you can throw your food-soiled paper plates in the compost bins and that you can compost meat,” said senior Yvette Michaud.
ECO Students ran the pilot program for two weeks to observe students’ reactions. On May 3 they will present the results from the test station to the student center’s governing board, which is made up of faculty, administration and students. From this, the center and ECO Students can decide what steps need to be taken to get the program off and running and what further education needs to be done to make sure customers can effectively compost.
Edina Bajraktarevic, retail and commercial services manager for the student center, said she was pleased that the student center is putting itself in line with the policies of the city and hoped that others would follow the center’s lead.
“This is a really ambitious project. All the steps we’re taking are really revolutionary,” she said. “To be able to set this great example for the campus and the businesses in the Bay Area is just amazing. There’s just nothing negative about it.”
According to the San Francisco Environment Department, San Francisco was the first large municipality to start collecting food scraps for composting, and is one of only a few cities that composts meat. Sunset Scavenger collects over 230 tons of food scraps and yard waste every day and sends it to Jepson Prairie Organics where it is turned into compost. The finished product is then sold to Bay Area farms and vineyards, which use it to grow the products sold back to consumers at local markets, effectively closing the loop of waste in the region.
The city hopes to divert 75 percent of its waste away from landfills by 2010, and 100 percent by 2020 according to Mark Westlund, public outreach program manager for the environment department.
By the second week of the composting test run, according to Michaud, it was clear that the majority of waste coming out of the student center is compostable. On Wednesday, after the station had been open only two hours, the compost bin was nearly full, while the recycling bin and trash bins had only managed a fraction of their potential capacity.
Once the program is implemented, Bajraktarevic hopes it will save the center money in the future. For now, however, the center is only seeing the cost. The price of products used in composting — such as compostable plastic bags and plastic ware for vendors — are high now, but she hopes the costs will come down when more businesses start using them.
Even with the pressures of higher costs and the daunting task of educating and encouraging the public to compost voluntarily, Bajraktarevic and the ECO Students remain positive.
“There is a huge educational component that we need to provide now, because many people just don’t know about [composting],” Bajraktarevic said. “But this is the right way to go. It will take time, but it will come together. We’re just that kind of campus.”
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