When Matthew Finnigan first heard about composting he assumed it was a messy process, involving leftover food, dirt, and worms. The University of Michigan student (graduating in 2019) says it was only after getting involved with the Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSL) program and learning more about composting on U-M’s campus, that he discovered composting was simple, easy and, usually, sans worms.
In order to raise the awareness of students like Finnigan, MDining recently joined with PBSL to host Composting Awareness Week, November 6-10, with numerous events to make composting a routine activity for everyone.
Finnigan was one of the several students who volunteered to spread the word.
“When I first became involved in recycling and composting, I was someone who needed to learn about the process and why it is important,” Finnigan says. “Now I am in the position to raise awareness among my fellow students. To me, it is so important to do what we can to protect our environment and that includes reusing, recycling and composting.”
Finnigan explains that while most people associate composting with food scraps, it extends to almost all materials. “We can compost plates, bowls, spoons … you name it.”
Keith Soster, Director of Student Engagement, says “In 2016, staff, students, and guests to the University of Michigan produced 582 tons of compostable waste. If this waste were not composted, it would be an extra 430 tons of waste sent to landfills.”
Currently, U-M’s MDining is diverting 29.2 percent of landfill waste to compost, with a goal of 40 percent by 2025. U-M faces unique challenges in meeting this goal as the campus continues to grow.
Activities at the first Composting Awareness Week included Compost Education Stations in dining halls and a screening of the documentary “WASTED! The Story of Food Waste”. Sustainable Mondays, a campus program centered on sustainable eating, community engagement, and educational outreach, also launched during the week.
On an ongoing basis, MDining halls, Michigan Catering events, and Michigan-led retail outlets now provide bins and resources for sustainable composting and recycling at 100 percent of locations.
“We offer our students and campus community the ability to compost all food waste, compostable paper, and plant-based products, as well as recycle the products they use, at dining locations around campus. Directions, bins, and fast facts also are provided to make it become a simple, easy habit,” says Soster.
According to Frank Turchan, executive chef, “Nothing goes to waste in the MDining kitchens with every piece of pre-consumer waste, such as carrot tops, onion skins and potato peelings, composted at the Ann Arbor Compost Center.”
The Center is operated by WeCare Organics where it is turned into compost, mulch, and topsoil. MDining also recycles post-consumer waste by processing it in a pulper to extract the water from the food. This process reduces the volume of food waste making it possible to transport it to the Compost Center.
“Even Blue to Go packaging and cups, food trays, napkins, stir sticks and paper products are recyclable or compostable,” Turchan says. “And our cooking oil is picked up and recycled into other usable products including biodiesel fuel and animal feed.”
The result, according to Composting 101, an environmental website, is less waste in the landfill, less methane emitted from the landfills, and soil that holds water better is more nutritious, and needs fewer pesticides.
For more information on composting or recycling on the U-M campus, please visit http://dining.umich.edu/about-us/sustainability/.