College Should Implement Composting

Following the recent disappearance of eco boxes and cups, the College’s need for a solution to food waste on campus has become all the more clear. 

I started to notice Oberlin’s issue with food scraps during the first week of the fall semester, after eating at Stevenson Dining Hall. As a first-year from California,  I was a little uncomfortable with the prospect of just throwing out my food with the rest of the trash. Considering that the disposable trays that Stevie provides are also compostable, it seemed like I was making a mistake and that there actually were compost bins somewhere on campus that I just hadn’t found yet. So, one night, with a half-empty disposable tray in hand, I went searching for some place to ethically dispose of my food. In the end, the only thing I succeeded in doing was looking like I was taking my trash on a walk. 

In the coming months, a solution to my confusion about what to do with my food arose in the form of “eco tableware.” I still wasn’t sure that my food was being sent to a compost dump, but I at least knew that I wasn’t generating waste in the form of cups and boxes. However, with the end of the fall semester, the more environmentally friendly alternatives stopped being used.  Now, the only remnants of the fall’s environmentalism lie in the half-forgotten eco cups left in kitchenette dish racks. 

So what do we do now? The obvious answer would be to bring back the eco dining system. On a larger scale, consider the benefits of composting the food waste that students generate. However, it’s true that even for a school of this size, composting will by no means be easy. From what I can tell, there are no composting facilities nearby that take food waste, and while on-campus composting is possible, it does come with the burden of time, money, and effort. In a presentation on real-world examples of on-campus composting, members of St. John’s University, Colorado State University, Fort Lewis College, Princeton University, and Western Michigan University all detailed their strategies and pitfalls when it came to dealing with food waste. At St. John’s University (the college with the closest on-campus student population to Oberlin), they reported pulling in 8,000 pounds of food waste per week which goes through a system of aerated static pile composting assisted by part-time student workers.

Needless to say, it’s messy work, and if Oberlin is up to the challenge, it would most likely be a multi-year project that even I might not get to see the full scale of as an undergrad. However, if the $80-million sustainable infrastructure program we’re currently engaging in tells us anything about Oberlin, it’s that this is a college that is willing and able to put in the time, money, and effort it takes to make a substantial impact.