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Campus Dining Services and the Faculty Student Association are Composting, Compacting and Growing a Greener Future

STONY BROOK, N.Y., September 13, 2010 Campus Dining Services and the Faculty Student Association are bringing a greener future to Stony Brook University. With students and faculty becoming more environmentally conscience these days, the two departments have been working on several joint ventures: (1) collecting food waste from the dining units and turning it into compost, (2) compacting trash through solar energy and (3) growing fresh tomatoes right here on campus using the nutrients found in the compost.

Composting is a process that turns organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. Dining service employees first separate biodegradable waste from other kitchen waste. Three times a week, it is transported from the kitchens of the Stony Brook Union, Roth Dining Center, Kelly Dining and Campus Connection at H-Quad, to the composter, which is located at Roth Dining Center loading dock. There the FSA volunteers mix the food waste with coffee grinds and the bulking agent and send it to the aerobic Compost Vessel. After two to three weeks the compost is ready to be taken to the university’s Organic Gardens at South P-Lot and off campus to the Research and Development Park.

From October 2009 through the first week of February, 2010, Campus Dining and Faculty Student Association staff processed over 2,750 gallons of its kitchen waste into compost. This included fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds and other pre-consumer food scraps.

The benefit of these efforts is that it reduces the amount of material sent to landfills, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels, and the carbon footprint of the campus. In addition, aerobic composting, unlike anaerobic landfill degradation, does not result in the release of methane, a gas that is reported to be 25 times more powerful as a global warming agent as carbon dioxide. So, the impact that the University community’s food waste would have on global warming is reduced as well.

Is the compost we make on campus the best medium to grow vegetables? The FSA tomato experiment was a growing comparison using three different types of soil (1) organic potting soil mixed with organic fertilizer, (2) compost (aged 6 months) from the composter and (3) Stony Brook dirt from Roth Quad. In 80 days, the tomato plants that grew the most were the plants in the organic potting soil and fertilizer, next the plants grown in compost and the dirt from Roth yielded the smallest tomato plants. Thanks to the Environmental Club, the tomato plants will be brought to different locations on campus to increase awareness of the benefits of supporting green efforts, such as composting, on campus. Volunteers are needed to help with this project so that all campus dining locations can become part of the composting project.

If you were on the academic mall recently you may have noticed a new solar powered trash compactor. It takes up as much space as an ordinary receptacle but its capacity is five times greater! The increased capacity reduces collection trips and can reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas by 80%. There is also a 75% reduction in the number of garbage bags needed.

Stony Brook University is fortunate to have three more BigBelly© solar compactors donated from Pepsi through its relationship with the Faculty Student Association. They will be located by the ATMs in front of the Stony Brook Union, on the side of the library facing the Fine Arts building and on the northeast entrance of Javits.

The solar compactor is so energy efficient that it operates for an entire day on the same amount of energy it takes to make a piece of toast. Although it uses solar energy it doesn’t need full sun to operate. The solar compactor works by people dumping trash into its receptacle where it falls into a bin. A sensor detects when the bin is full and a compaction ram squashes the trash into one-fifth of its original size. The battery can stay charged for up to five years from the solar panels.

The wireless monitoring system sends out an alert when the compactor is full via a text message. Who knew your next texting buddy would be a garbage can? One solar compactor can hold 150 gallons of trash. The receptacle is designed to keep out pests and automatically compact the garbage when its electronic eye sees that the trash has reached a targeted level. As a result, the University’s custodial expenses can be reduced, helping to preserve valuable financial resources for other purposes in support of the academic mission.