CAS strategizes to increase composting

Campus Auxiliary Services are bringing black soldier flies to campus as a way to expand their composting efforts. Currently, the not-for-profit collects pre-consumer veggie scraps from Red Jacket Dining Hall’s Culinary Support Center that produces the grab-and-go salads and other to-go items.

Last year alone, CAS brought 11,400 pounds of veggie scraps to the compost pile that is situated between the Vic Raschi softball field and track & field complex.

The vegetables help balance out the more traditional compost pile that mixes green waste with brown waste from yard clippings, CAS Marketing Coordinator Becky Stewart said. Traditional compost piles are typically vegan, though, restricted from meats and oils.

In addition to these challenges, the compost pile is at capacity. The CAS Sustainability Committee has searched for the past two years for additional methods to divert more food waste from the landfill.

After considering eight options, CAS decided on a bioconversion system with black soldier flies, a species native to the area.

The black soldier flies hatch as larvae or grub and eat a lot of food for about 10 days. For every 100 pounds of food waste, they create five pounds of biomass. The resulting biomass can be composted or added directly to the earth as a soil amendment.

The CAS Sustainability Committee found that this is “the best solution” given the additional advantages: Water, electricity and moving parts are not required; flexibility in scale; nonfood items, such as silverware, will not break the biopod and each byproduct – water, soil amendment and grubs – are beneficial to the environment. Both the funding and location are secured for the bioconversion system, but CAS is still waiting to build the biopods and structure.

Distinguished Teaching Professor of Physics Stephen Padalino purchased a household-size biopod on Monday Nov. 4 to use as a demonstration unit in the Integrated Science Center in January 2014. The test will take CAS’ post-consumer food waste to learn how to manage the ecosystem and monitor any pitfalls with a smaller scale before CAS implements the pilot unit, Stewart said.

Other recommendations by the CAS Sustainability Committee included bringing food waste to a local composting facility, partnering with a third party to remove the food waste, managing their own compost pile, composting via Earth Tub, composting via in-vessel units, using a Somat machine that “bakes” the food waste into a soil amendment and converting food waste to ethanol fuel.

But unlike other colleges within New York State, CAS’ options are limited due to Geneseo’s location.

“There are no pre-set solutions out there,” Stewart said. “A lot of the different solutions that do exist are beneficial; however, they aren’t as fully beneficial as we’re looking for as far [as] our ideal situation.”

At the University of Buffalo, composting depends on the dining facility. Students compost differently in dining halls located within residence halls than in the student union. The more controlled dining halls collect pre and post-consumer food waste while the student union has more behind-the-scenes composting, Erin Moscati, sustainability education manager at Buffalo, said in a phone interview.

Similarly, at Cornell University, Mary Schwarz, extension support specialist of the Cornell Waste Management Institute recognizes the challenges of separating post-consumer food waste.

The university includes training during orientation, so all students are aware of the composting system. Dos and don’ts are reiterated through signage in freshmen dorm rooms, Schwarz said in a phone interview.

In the past, Geneseo experimented with separation bins for post-consumer food waste. CAS held waste days in Mary Jemison Dining Hall to help people place their waste in the appropriate bins, but Stewart said, it did not go well.

Cornell has found, Schwarz said, collaboration is key in implementing any new aspect of a composting system.

“Everyone has to buy into it or it doesn’t work,” she said. “It requires a lot of education, a lot of cooperation.”

At Geneseo, there isn’t a formal relationship between students or the Geneseo Environmental Organization and CAS, but as GEO member senior Kristen Balschunat said, “Students know students. [CAS] should ask people who are excited; they would help.”

In the past, GEO has approached CAS with other sustainability ideas, such as replacing the paper sleeves for subs and wraps with stickers. GEO also thought of a Tupperware club for students to reuse a CAS-approved container in dining facilities instead of opting for the disposable dishes.

CAS Executive Director Mark Scott said that CAS does intend on incorporating everyone, such as students, faculty members and New York State’s facilities planning, because all of CAS’ efforts have to be supported by the campus community, he said.

While he recognizes that people will express different interests in composting, Scott said he is excited to see the “learning outcomes for our entire campus community.”