Campus Composting, Part 1: Rural, Urban and Beyond
Picture this. You are attending a picnic for the incoming class of 2022. On the quad are five, fifteen foot long buffet tables brimming with food and drinks to feed the 1,300 freshmen. Students queue, grab disposable service ware, fill their plates and cups, eat throughout the quad, and then throw away their disposable waste. At the conclusion of the event there are more than thirty bags of waste and at least three buffet tables full of edible food. Similar scenarios occur at events of varying sizes, several hundred times a year at both Johns Hopkins University and at institutions worldwide. Furthermore, while reducing the amount of food prepped is the best way to prevent food waste, it is not always the simplest.
This presentation will delve into two easily adaptable programs that Johns Hopkins University (JHU) utilizes to reduce event food waste, increase composting, and decrease waste sent to the incinerator. The JHU Homewood Recycling Office identified event waste as a major contributor to our incinerator waste stream. After performing waste audits, we determined that most of the event waste either could be or was compostable and/or edible. Next, we referenced the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy to develop two event focused programs that would help reduce the amount of event waste being sent to the incinerator: (1) the Free Food Alert (FFA) and (2) the Zero Waste Events (ZWEs) program.
The FFA program embodies the second tier of the Food Recovery Hierarchy: preventing event food from being wasted and feeding hungry JHU community members. The FFA program is a web based program, developed by a JHU ’17 alumnus. In real time, event coordinators post campus events that have surplus food. The website then alerts subscribers of the event and provides a window during which subscribers can collect the food. Last year over 100 event alerts were sent out and we estimate that over 1,000 portions of food were diverted from compost and incinerator bins.
The ZWE program exemplifies the fifth tier of the Food Waste Hierarchy: composting. The program’s goal is to encourage staff to host events that produce only recyclable and compostable waste. It consists of a five step planning process for event coordinators, as well as a list of Preferred Green Caterers (PGCs). A vetted group, the PGCs list, comprises of l local caterers that agree to provide JHU events with compostable service ware. By selecting a PGC, staff are choosing to host a ZWE. This helps us control waste stream contamination while increasing composting. Since the start of the program in 2013, we have seen increased results. Last year, we saw a 12% increase of on-campus events. 60% of those events were ZWEs, which is a 5% increase from the previous year.
Both the FFA and ZWE programs can be adopted by any university or organization to reduce wasted food, increase composting, and decrease landfill/incinerator waste. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, these programs are engaging and increase community morale!