Student center brings back compost program
 

A project to divert compostable food waste from the garbage returned Monday to the Cesar Chavez Student Center’s main dining area after a yearlong hiatus. The center’s staff, student volunteers and the City of San Francisco hope it is the first of a series of steps to reduce waste at SF State and move it closer toward sustainability.

The project, stationed near Café 101, divides waste into compostables, recyclables and garbage. Signs above three different collection bins list what goes where: all food and soiled paper are compostable, bottles and cans are recyclable and most plastics are garbage.

Members of ECO Students, the university’s environmentally conscious student group, man the station in pairs on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. About 20 student volunteers take turns greeting people walking toward the bins with their trash and explaining where each portion of it can go.

“I’ve got incentives for five more people that want to sign up,” said William Rutledge, a senior majoring in environmental studies. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment supplied the group with hiking books and other rewards to help increase student participation, he said.

The project did not advance beyond a successful pilot last spring because “last semester we kind of got sidetracked with the Every Day is Earth Day week. Nobody owned this project,” Rutledge said. This time, the project will last for the rest of the year, soon to be joined by another batch of labeled bins outside the center near Carmelina La Petite.

If successful, the project could divert some of the estimated 60 to 70 percent of the dining area’s waste that is compostable, Rutledge said.

But students need to know about it and use it properly.

“I have a feeling that most people don’t know what composting is,” said Rawley Johnson, graduate student of geography and project volunteer.

If people are not available to explain the method behind separating the trash, “I think participation will dramatically decrease,” said Nikki LePage-Carton, project volunteer and senior geography major. “It’s hard to get people to do it [between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.]”

Another problem is contamination within the different waste streams. If a single glass bottle slips into a dumpster full of compostables, it can ruin the whole batch, said Edina Bajrakteravic, retail commercial services manager for the student center. For the center to confidently purchase new bins, signs and expensive liner bags for the compostables, the collection must be well separated and relatively free of contaminants. “It’s a huge process. A lot of education has to take place. It takes so much people power,” she said.

Despite the challenges, “It’s very exciting for us,” Bajrakteravic said.

The student center has worked closely with restaurants, ECO Students and the city over the years to reduce waste. It first began collecting food scraps directly from restaurants in 2006. In addition to collecting some of what remains post-consumption now, the center will begin separating used paper towels in the restrooms for composting later this month. By 2012, Bajrakteravic hopes San Francisco will certify the student center as a green building.

“We want to become more sustainable as a business. It’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Some of the students eating at the center Monday liked the revived project. “It’s a great step in the right direction for making students aware,” said Andreas Herczeg, a senior majoring in industrial arts.

“I’d love to see it go beyond the student involvement here,” said Scott Manelis, a theatre arts major. The senior said the project should expand to serve the entire student center and “there should be more recycling bins on campus than trash bins.”

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