Food Waste Composting & Lowering Environmental Impact
by Jenifer Chiodo
Stony Brook University's Campus Dining Services takes initiative to transform pre-consumer food waste into compost, which is then used in the nursery section of the R&D Park Greenhouse. Since early 2009-10, the University, Faculty Student Association (FSA) and Campus Dining Services have collaborated to develop and implement a pre-consumer food waste composting program using an aerobic compost vessel - which is a large, 20-foot long white cylindrical tank with sliding doors that stores and rotates "brewing" food waste which is then transformed into compost. During operation, the compost vessel spins slowly so that the food waste mixes and the interior of the vessel reaches approximately 160 degrees - which helps break the food waste down into nutrient rich compost. Once complete, the compost is then transferred to the R&D Park Greenhouse where it is held and eventually integrated into the nursery section of the R&D Park Greenhouse and is used to grow select trees and saplings.
During the academic year, the FSA facilities team collects pre-consumer food waste (including vegetable, fruit and other related cuttings and coffee grinds) from all campus dining facilities and places them into the compost hopper, which is located outside of the Roth Cafe. In addition to food waste, wood shavings are used as a bulking agent for the mix, which helps absorb some liquefied food waste. Together, the hopper blades till all the ingredients and then send the colorful "waste salad" from the hopper into the 20-foot long vessel to aerobically break down. The vessel is spun once every four hours while air is pumped in, propagating the aerobic biodegradation process. After a few days, bacteria and other microbes in the core of the vessel create latent heat that can reach an astounding 160 degrees and vents on the exterior of the vessel keep the temperature to a manageable level.
Tony Gentile, FSA's Machine Operative Services Manager, manages the food waste program and is responsible for directing staff to collect the food waste, place it in the hopper and ultimately process it so that it becomes compost. Tony talked about his experiment he calls the "Tomato Project": "We used Stony Brook dirt for one tomato plant, organic soil for another, and SBU's own compost for a third one. The plant in our compost was incredible - it was huge and had many fruits on it. It was the healthiest plant out of the three".
In 2012-13, over 80,000 pounds of food waste was recycled into compost, which equates to approximately 308 pounds of food waste recycled per weekday. By diverting food waste from landfills, the University is able to mitigate its impact on the natural environment and lower expenses related to solid waste collection.
For more information on this initiative, please contact:
Stony Brook University
Office of Sustainability