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Students advocate for campus to resume composting after pandemic pause

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Across campus, many students have noticed a decrease in composting bins on campus despite minimal communication from administration. Composting has temporarily paused in almost every building, including the residence halls. Though some bins still have compost signs, they are not being collected as compost. Currently, Buntrock Commons houses the few remaining compost bins that are still being collected as such.

This choice to put composting on a pause was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the bandwidth of the facilities crew was limited during that time, and the composting program has not been able to remain consistently operational since. 

On Feb. 22, members of St. Olaf’s Environmental Coalition met with Assistant Director for Custodial Services and Event Support Brian Ims and Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Christopher Medley to discuss the status of composting on campus and how the program could be improved for the future. Besides the setbacks from the pandemic, another reason for halting compost collection was students’ lack of education on how to compost correctly. 

While in full operation, the school’s compost waste was delivered to an off-campus composting site where it would be inspected before getting disposed of appropriately. At the meeting, Ims remarked that if a bag of compost contained even one piece of non-compostable material, the bag was automatically treated as trash and none of its contents would actually be composted. 

However, both Ims and Medley expressed support for starting up the practice again, citing that student education on how to dispose of compost correctly would be crucial to the program’s renewal. 

In response to this meeting, the Environmental Coalition began to create educational material for the student population, acknowledging that first year students are coming to campus with varying degrees of prior compost experience and knowledge. 

There is momentum for bringing composting back among students as well – the Student Senate recently had a meeting discussing the state of composting on campus and what they could do to aid its return. 

Regarding composting in the cafeteria, Bon Appetit regularly composts food scraps from students’ meals. Additionally, the Food Recovery Network, a student-led volunteer organization, collects leftover food from Stav Hall two to three days a week, packages it, and distributes it to local organizations and food shelves. 

Although composting in academic and dorm buildings is currently paused, efforts are being made to implement return in the near future. In the meantime, students should educate themselves on what is and is not compostable, teach their friends, and reduce food waste as much as possible.

 

Note: Emily Breuch is a member of the Environmental Coalition. 

breuch1@stolaf.edu