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Limiting waste: students lead compost initiative on campus

Approximately one-third, or 1.4 billion tons, of food produced worldwide for human consumption gets lost or wasted every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations.

For over 20 years, the Georgia College Grounds Department has been composting lawn material such as tree branches and shrubbery. However, in 2014, through the Sustainability Fee Program, the Sustainability Council approved a student-led project to extend composting efforts to include food waste from campus.

 “The compost project started as a very small class project with Drs. Sam and Christine Mutiti,” said Lori Strawder, chief sustainability officer. “They had a group of students work on a small-scale composting project.”

That small project has now grown into a campuswide composting initiative. 

The Office of Sustainability has partnered with Sodexo to collect food waste from The MAX. The process works as a well-oiled machine. Sodexo staff sort waste into bins, the Office of Sustainability picks up the waste and transport it to the composting site. The food waste is then placed into an in-vessel system to begin the composting process.

“Sodexo has been wonderful to partner with on this program,” said sustainability coordinator Kristen Hitchcock. “They are instrumental in allowing us to collect the food waste.”

The compost generated is currently being used to fertilize both the West Campus garden and the landscaping on campus, but the benefits of the composting efforts reach far beyond the soil at Georgia College. It provides both short and long-term benefits to the campus community.

“This program is beneficial to our students because we are able to bring in interns to work on the program, so they get direct experience with research and project management,” said Hitchcock, who sees long-term potential in the project to educate students, faculty and staff about the importance of reducing waste.

Jacob Deitch, a senior environmental science major and assistant director of the Sustainability Council, said his involvement with the composting efforts have caused him to reflect on his own habits of consumption.

“Being a part of an intelligent, sustainability like-minded group of individuals and professors has made me a lot more conscious of every little bit of waste that I produce. It has made me a lot more motivated to recycle that waste and to not let it stay as waste, “said Deitch.

Outdoor Education major Rachel Nabors hopes to see engagement between the composting efforts on campus, local organizations and individuals by engaging in a dialogue about how to deal with waste.

“You don’t have to throw your food away. Some people don’t know that you can make use of your waste, it’s not even on their radar. I think that not only can we have that conversation, but extend it to the community, as well.”

Once the research for the composting project is complete, a best practices manual for collecting waste from the MAX will be produced in order to ensure the continued success of the program.

For more information and for opportunities to become involved, contact Kristen Hitchcock at kristen.hitchcock@gcsu.edu

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