Temple’s first composting program debuted Aug. 23 in the Howard Gittis Student Center dining hall. The program was led by the Office of Sustainability and Students for Environmental Action in a partnership with Sodexo, the company that supplies food to the university.
The program, is exclusive to the Student Center, which generated more than 350 tons of waste last year – most of which came from food products, program organizers said.
“We are really excited about that fact that when people are in that building, that they’re actually passively learning,” said Kathleen Grady, director of sustainability.
Grady said she believes integrating composting into a regular mealtime routine will help people become more sustainable by habit.
“I think that they’re going to be more environmentally conscious,” Grady said.
In the first two weeks of the program’s implementation, organizers announced there was a 99 percent compliance rate with only one percent of the waste improperly thrown out, known as contamination. The program is allowed three percent contamination.
The eco-representatives have facilitated this by educating students on how to dispose of waste in the appropriate receptacles.
“That says to me for the second week of this actually being in operation that we’re meeting both of our goals – we’re minimizing our waste and students are really getting it,” Grady said.
Students for Environmental Action began conducting petitions and an email campaign for both the student body and for the administration in 2012 to gauge interest for the composting program. The student organization researched both the environmental and financial benefits of composting and brought their findings to the administration.
Donnie Irvandy, then-president of Students for Environmental Action, and Morgan Nemtuda, then-campaign manager, presented the organization’s findings and petition to administrators in March 2013. Representatives from Sodexo and Temple offices like Student Center Operations, Sustainability, Business Services and Waste Management were present at the meeting.
“Administrators received it well,” Nemtuda, a junior environmental studies major, said. “At the meeting, it was decided that a Summer 2013 work group would form to look into how things could be implemented from a different departmental end. Then after a year of planning, preparation, and patience the new composting program has come to fruition.”
Students for Environmental Action reached out to other institutions like Ithaca College, the University of Idaho, Plymouth State University, Seattle Pacific University and Lehigh University in the process of gathering research. These other institutions contract with Sodexo and have compostable serviceware in their retail dining locations. Temple is the first university in Philadelphia to implement a composting program, organizers said.
Sodexo is responsible for providing materials that are composed of plant-based fibers and other organic components instead of plastic for the Student Center’s food court.
Austin Smith, campaign director of Students for Environmental Action, said Sodexo welcomed the project and found how to make the campaign a reality.
Nemtuda said she is optimistic about future student participation.
“People are extremely fast learners,” she said. “It takes less than 30 seconds of an interaction and then they’re knowledgeable about these practices available to us.”
Composting is environmentally and financially beneficial. For every ton of waste sent to the composting facility instead of the landfill, $75 is saved, as the tipping fee for the landfill is more expensive than that of the composting facility.
Smith emphasized that the project is largely student-run. He said he was skeptical of student interest at first, but was surprised by the number of people who volunteered to be eco representatives, particularly underclassmen.
“It’s really cool that students put in time [outside of class] to make this happen,” Nemtuda said. “And they’re still working on it to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.”
The next step in the program is to expand composting to the Morgan Hall dining complex.
Lian Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org