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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Composting initiative at new CoHo takes off

With the new ASUCD Coffee House finished and fall quarter in full swing, the composting program at the Memorial Union is flourishing.

Student groups and staff at the MU started the composting initiative at the beginning of last spring quarter. It strives to increase sustainability and environmental awareness of students.

“The first goal is to reduce the waste as much as possible,” said Will Klein, a member of the Campus Center for the Environment and a senior environmental science and management major. “And then whatever is left of that, get the compostable stuff as clean as possible, meaning as few non-compostable materials in the compost bins as possible, and then get as much as possible into the composting bin.”

The CoHo is now equipped with compost bins in every location where there are trash and recycling bins. The blue can is for mixed recyclables, such as cans and bottles, the black can is for trash that will go to the landfill and the yellow can is for compostable materials.

Compost bins are also located throughout the MU.

Teaching students what can and cannot be composted is one of the main goals of the composting initiative.

“The basic education and getting people used to ‘wow, this container can actually be composted’ is a pretty hard barrier to overcome,” said Klein. “Through this composting program we can really begin to make people realize that this [compostable item] actually can be utilized once they’re done with it.”

While there has been recent success with the new CoHo and the composting initiative, some issues have arisen.

A specific issue is the lack of compostable coffee cup lids. While the coffee cups themselves are compostable, the lids are not. Many students either completely ignore the fact the cup is compostable and put it in the bin marked ‘landfill,’ or put the coffee cup with the lid into the compost bin.

“If you throw the cup into the compost bin but it has a plastic lid and plastic straw, it’s not getting composted. We’re trying to educate the public and get people to help us by thinking about what they’re putting in the bins,” said John Seden, associate director of operations at the MU.

If a non-compostable item is placed in the compost bin this could cause a major issue, as the composting facility that UC Davis brings the compost to could reject the contaminated compost.

“If you have any doubt if something is compostable, it’s better to just put it in the landfill than to pollute the composting stream,” Seden said.

The adjustment to a new, ultra compostable CoHo is a learning experience for both the students and the CoHo employees, CoHo Director Sharon Coulson said.

“We have 225 brand new employees and really, we have 10,000 new customers. We all need to learn, we’re just going through the learning stage right now,” she said.

The switch to a compost-friendly CoHo does come with some additional costs. However, many feel that these costs will be outweighed by the environmental benefits that composting provides.

“It doesn’t cost a substantial amount more, the only additional costs are that the bags themselves are a little more expensive and some of the compostable wares like forks are a little more expensive,” Klein said. “In terms of staffing time, it took some time out of peoples’ work schedules to plan it out, but in terms of how much we’re going to save, like environmental benefits, it’s probably worth it in terms of cost.”

With the push toward composting at the new CoHo, many are optimistic about the future of the composting program at the MU, the CoHo and around campus.

“This is the first composting program in the whole campus besides at the dining commons, so we’re hopping to expand to other places around campus based on the success here,” Klein said.

HANNAH STRUMWASSER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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