By: Lee McClenon
After several waste audits and tireless work from many people on campus, Bryn Mawr is now composting food waste in both Haffner and Erdman dining halls. The initiative, which is still in its piloting phase, has been a developing project for the past two years. In the spring of 2011 the Environmental Studies Senior Seminar at Bryn Mawr first proposed the idea, which was then continued by the Sustainable Foods Committee, an appointed SGA group. One member of last year’s committee, Ryan Leitner, said, “we could not have done this project without students pushing for it, without faculty and staff work, and without community interest. We are lucky at this school because all we have to do is ask for a meeting with an administrator and they jump through hoops to help us in whatever way they can.” The implementation of this project shows how dedicated work and collaboration across many bodies on campus can help to create sustainable, effective change.
This isn't your average backyard-composting program. Because the college is contracting with an industrial sized hot composting company, almost all waste from the dining halls goes in the composting bins rather than the trash. Napkins, meat, dairy, eggs and grains, in addition to your normal veggie scraps, are all diverted from the incinerator where the college sends its trash. Bryn Mawr Dining Services is also working on using certified compostable/biodegradable service-ware at outdoor events to further reduce our waste footprint.
While there are not currently official numbers on the amount of food waste collected, a significant amount of trash has been diverted so far. Whereas trash has in the past been collected five or six days a week from the dining halls, that figure has now been reduced to two. Ed Harman, Assistant Director for Buildings and Grounds and a main point person for the project, said that his department hopes to move to trash pickup once a week in the future. This reduction, he said, helps keep the program nearly cost neutral.
The program has overall been well received, but there are still a few kinks to work out. Part of the struggle in putting the program together was finding a service that would fit the college's needs. Our trash service, Republic, runs composting routes, but only through New York and New Jersey. In the trial last spring, the college used a service that trucked our waste to Wilmington, Delaware. That relationship simply "didn't make sense," said Harman, because the benefits of compost were being offset by the costs of running a truck over long distances. The school's current contract is with "Philly Compost," which takes the compost to Royersford, which is about 15 minutes from here. Balancing the costs and benefits of the program- environmentally and socially- is complicated but several senior math majors are tackling the question in their senior seminar this fall. The results of their calculations about the relative CO2 outputs of the incineration system and composting program will help the college decide if it will continue its contract with Philly Composting permanently.
There are a few other improvements and possible expansions in the works. one long-term goal is to try composting in Uncommon Grounds, Lusty Cup or even eventually the dorms. However, in these areas consumers sort their own waste and so there would have to be a significant public education campaign to make the system work and be worthwhile.
Bryn Mawr's move towards composting makes them a leader in the industry. Haverford College is investigating a similar system to the one at Bryn Mawr. "There are a lot of folks watching us," said Harman. "There are local businesses and other colleges watching us because if we can do it cost neutral, without negative effects on dining staff, they're going to want to do it as well.”