Composting@BU

The Dirt-y Business of Going Green
Composting key part of Dining Services’ mission

BY LESLIE FRIDAY. VIDEO BY ROBIN BERGHAUS

With more than 30,000 students, 4,000 faculty, and 5,000 staff, Boston University produces a ton of trash—11,000 tons a year to be exact.

The good news is that not all of that waste heads to a landfill. For the past three years, Dining Services employees have composted food scraps at campus dining halls. This fall marks a significant expansion of that effort. Diners at the George Sherman Union’s newly refurbished Food Court now have the option of composting their own scraps.

“We’re trying to make this so easy that people won’t see it as onerous,” says Barbara Laverdiere, director of Dining Services.

Laverdiere’s department has worked closely with Facilities Management & Planning to design new counter spaces that make it easy for diners to compost. Yellow squares indicate where to place material for composting, black squares where to place trash. Staff and student volunteers have been manning trash stations for the past couple of weeks to educate diners on what can and cannot be composted. Once diners get the hang of the process, informational signs will be installed as reminders.

Students seem open to the change. In last year’s annual Dining Services survey, 85 percent said they would sort their trash into the appropriate bins at the GSU if given the option.

University brass haven’t always embraced composting, mostly because it’s labor-intensive. Employees and diners have to be trained how to properly sort and dispose of trash. Laverdiere credits President Robert A. Brown for supporting the greener measure. Composting actually costs less than trash disposal, according to Craig Hill, vice president for auxiliary services.

The environmental impact could be significant. Save That Stuff, a waste disposal company that specializes in recyclable goods, has collected nearly 1,000 tons of food scraps and compostable materials from University dining halls and GSU prep kitchens over the past two years, according to Sabrina Harper, sustainability coordinator at Dining Services. She hopes to expand that number by at least 150 tons this year with the addition of composting at the GSU’s Food Court.

Curious about how all those food scraps actually become compost? Save That Stuff empties the Dining Services compost bins six days a week and hauls the sloppy goop to Brick Ends Farm in South Hamilton, Mass., a compost facility on the North Shore. BU’s scraps are then mixed with others’ and mounded into basketball hoop–high piles. Workers then use payloaders to separate the piles into rows more than 10 feet tall and 3 times as long, like giant loaves of bread.

Farm employees turn the piles frequently to ensure exposure to sun and air, accelerating decompositon. “What we’re doing here is speeding up Mother Nature,” says Pete McParland, a compost specialist and equipment operator at Brick Ends Farm. Eventually, the piles are run through a screener, which sorts the new soil from leftover garbage.

After nine months, what was once food or a compostable napkin is now coal-black soil that is sold to local farmers, backyard gardeners, and landscapers. Some of it even makes its way to Boston’s Fenway Victory Gardens.

This fall will see other opportunities for the BU community to get involved. A labeled compost container will be on the patio of the BU Pub, others will be in dining halls for students to use during late night hours, and the Hillel House cafeteria will have a yellow bin where students can toss their food waste. And if you have food scraps at home that you want to compost, Harper says, you can deposit them into the labeled compost bins around campus.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu

Read more about BU Going Green. And on Twitter, follow Sustainability@BU at @sustainableBU and Save That Stuff at @savethatstuff.