SF State urges you to compost, not fill up the trash cans

The effort to save food waste from landfills at SF State will expand Monday to the student center's West Plaza, but students will need to think before they throw for the effort to succeed.

Trios of collection bins similar to those near Café 101 inside the center will replace the current cans outside Carmelina La Petite and Bark N Bun. Each bin will be color coded to match the system used elsewhere in the city of San Francisco and labeled to describe what it accepts.

The new addition is a green bin that collects compostables; food scraps, soiled paper and compostable plastics. Unlike the pilot station inside the center, the green bins will be permanent additions.

This will make the West Plaza the first place on campus where people can dispose of compostable waste properly at any time.

"The part of the population that wants to compost will seek these out," said Suzanne McNulty, a member of ECO Students closely associated with the composting project.

As with the pilot station, the group of environmentally conscious students will have volunteers stand by the bins during peak lunch hours to explain the change and help people separate their waste.

Many ECO Students members enjoy volunteering because "a lot of us are little waste freaks," McNulty said with a laugh. "Compost is an amazingly great thing, and it's 'zero waste' in the making."

Edina Bajrakteravic, the student center's retail commercial services manager, said she appreciated the help and the pilot project so far has been a success.

"They're very well organized, and students are really impressed with their attention to detail" when describing and facilitating the program, she said.

Sometimes the details get dirty: on one occasion, a volunteer was seen putting on latex gloves before a shift at the pilot station. She said she used them to dig out contaminants and to move food scraps off of people's plates into the compostables bin to better illustrate the program.

An intensive education effort is necessary, however, if the West Plaza bins are to successfully divert waste from the landfill because too much contamination will force the center to throw it all into the garbage anyway.
"We cannot afford to make mistakes," Bajrakteravic said

While this year's pilot station closes the contamination-sensitive compostables bin when volunteers are not around to watch it, last year's pilot eventually opened the bin to the public. Initially, people threw too many recyclables or garbage into the green bin, but contamination dipped after a of couple weeks.

"Of course we expect [contamination] to be high, but we expect it to drop," McNulty said.

Bajrakteravic agreed, saying it took trained professionals—hired by San Francisco's Department of the Environment—about two months to teach the center's operations staff how to effectively integrate the three-bin system. "It's crazy to assume that day one, day two, it's going to be perfectly sorted," she said.

And at this point, failure is not an option. If people do not adapt to the new system, "we educate them until they do," said Bajrakteravic, adding that soon "all businesses will have to be doing this" to meet San Francisco's goal of diverting 75 percent or more of solid wastes from the landfill by 2010.

A waste audit performed in spring 2006 by ECO Students found that nearly 75 percent of the student center's waste was compostable and 10 percent was recyclable, meaning it could potentially divert 85 percent of its solid waste.

The student group will perform similar audits on the first week's worth of waste collected by the West Plaza bins, McNulty said. Bajrakteravic said contaminated waste streams would have to be thrown away, but McNulty said the group would likely try to sort collections enough to make them viable after the audit.

"Now the students just have to do their part and make a conscious choice," McNulty said.







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