Composting Pilot Project

California State University, Stanislaus

Date: December 9, 2008
To: BioAg Committee, CSU Faculty, and CSU Administration 

Authors:  Matthew Cover, PhD and Nancy Au
From: Ida Bowers, Nancy Au, Myra Ratzesberger, and all interested faculty, staff and students. 
Subject: Proposal to develop a pilot food-waste composting program on the CSU Stanislaus campus

 

Introduction

Significant quantities of organic waste are generated by food service and grounds maintenance activities on the CSU Stanislaus campus. The following proposal describes a feasible and economically viable program for our campus to recover and process much of its organic residuals by redirecting organic waste from landfills to an on-campus organic recycling (composting) program. Under the supervision of faculty, students will be trained to collect and bring organic waste from on-campus dining facilities to designated composting sites in the BioAg for processing. Finished compost can be used as a soil amendment and biological fertilizer to improve BioAg soils, Sustainable Ag garden beds, and for on-campus landscaping. The environmental and educational benefits of this program include:

1) reduced solid waste generated by campus dining facilities;

2) reduced campus expenditures for soil amendment, fertilizer, and water;

3) environmental education and training for undergraduate students;

4) increased community involvement and education through tours and demonstrations; and

5) faculty-directed scientific research on the effectiveness of various compositing methods.

 

Methods

1)      Secure a reliable source of food and yard waste. With the generous cooperation of Tim Miller, on-site manager of Sodexo Food Services, we have sourced a reliable stream of food waste. Mr. Miller has volunteered the cooperation of his staff for collecting food waste. Faculty will provide training of Sodexo staff with regards to what can and cannot be composted. Compostable materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, stale bread and tortillas, and leftover/uneaten/rotten foods. Sodexo staff will put food waste into covered, wheeled bins, to be collected daily for transfer to the composting facility. Preliminary discussions with campus facilities staff indicates that it will might be possible to obtain sufficient yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, etc.) to provide necessary carbon sources.

2)      Develop compositing facilities and equipment in the BioAg. Initially, we propose to use five types of composting (described below): (1) heap (windrow) composting, (2) bin composting, (3) worm bin (vermitopia) composting, (4) trench composting, and (5) sheet composting. The space requirements for each of these methods, including working areas around the composting bins, is on the order of 50 square feet (5’ x 10’). Heap and trench composting requires little equipment other than readily available tarps and hand tools. Bin composting methods will make use of existing equipment in the BioAg, as well as donated materials from the community.

3)      Recruit and train student interns. Under the supervision of faculty, students will perform the day-to-day composting operations, including transferring food scraps from the dining facilities to the BioAg, incorporation of food scraps into compost systems, and monitoring of environmental conditions. Several undergraduates have already expressed interest in this proposed program, and it is expected that additional students could be recruited. Students would obtain course credit through Internship or Individual Study courses. It is anticipated that eight undergraduates, each working 2-3 hours per week, will be required to fill the five-day weekly schedule.  At least two additional students will remain on-call as back-ups. Students will work in pairs, and will commit to a set schedule of pick-ups. Students will be trained in basic composting concepts, pick-up of food waste bins from Sodexo’s kitchens, transfer of food waste to the composting facilities, and maintenance and monitoring of the composting facilities and the BioAg.

 

Timeline

This composting pilot study is proposed for the Spring 2009 semester. The semester will be divided into three phases. This approach will allow ample time for the development of the pilot study, as well as post-project monitoring and maintenance of the system prior to the end of the semester. This allows all raw food waste sufficient time to begin the composting process prior to the end of the semester.

 

Phase 1: Set-up. 3 weeks (Feb. 16 – Mar. 13): Recruitment of students and staff; coordinating student schedules; development of composting facilities.

Phase 2: Processing. 6 weeks (Mar. 16 – Apr. 24): Training of students;  collection of food waste and incorporation into composting systems.

Phase 3: Monitoring and maintenance. 5 weeks (Apr. 27 – May 29). Monitoring and maintenance of compost systems.

 

Conclusion

Composting has numerous biological and environmental benefits. Compost added to soil improves drainage and moisture absorption, especially in soils that are otherwise poor in quality. This makes growing in our sandy, water-leaching soils much easier and more productive. Compost also provides nutrients to the plant’s growing area without the use of costly synthetic fertilizers. Environmentally, the use of compost has been shown to clean up contaminated soils by reducing runoffs, as well as preventing erosion when used near pathways and water features such as those found on campus.  The second largest source of greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming is methane that comes from food waste in landfills.  By composting, CSU Stanislaus can help to minimize its footprint on the ecological landscape to preserve it for future generations to come.  Projects such as this will propel CSU Stanislaus into the foreground as an upcoming leader in environmental issues, education, and sustainable practices right here on campus.