If the Brandeis community doesn’t start respecting the compost bins, they will be removed next month. Associate Director of the Office of Sustainability Mary Fischer spoke to The Brandeis Hoot about the current misuse of compost bins by people on campus.
Due to the issues created by the misuse of the bins, the compost program is at risk. “We will be removing compost bins from residence halls if the contamination and rejections do not stop by Oct. 25. We cannot justify the continued waste of resources,” said Fischer. She explained that last year, students were able to properly use the compost bins after the first few weeks, as there was a “learning curve.” According to the Office of Sustainability website, Brandeis composted 19 percent of all waste in 2020, and 12 percent of waste in 2021 was composted. This was an increase from previous years, with 2015 having a 3 percent compost rate.
Composting on campus is possible through the bright green cans around campus. They can be found in areas like Upper Usdan, the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) and behind the Ziv Quad. Brandeis collaborates with Black Earth Compost in this sustainability effort. “We specifically selected Black Earth because they actually do break down the certified compostable items in their process, whereas some other composters do not,” wrote Fischer in an email to The Hoot. Black Earth picks up the compost from Brandeis to handle the waste for the school, says Fischer. However, as documented on the Office of Sustainability Instagram page, items have been placed in the compost bins that are not eligible for composting, leading to some issues with the composting program.
“Compost from residence halls and academic areas gets picked up on Saturdays. Black Earth’s driver does a visual inspection of each bin before loading it into the compost truck. If he sees trash in the compost bin, he will NOT load it, and instead will send me a rejection notice with a photo of what was in the bin,” wrote Fischer. “Then I have to notify Facilities Services that Brandeis employees now have to go empty those bins into the trash, using our already understaffed grounds team, who will then drive the Brandeis trash truck to each site to empty the bins.”
This year’s misuse has led to many difficulties in this process. According to Fischer, the community has successfully used the compost bins 5 percent of the time this year. “Since the beginning of the school year, out of 14 residence hall compost areas that each have multiple bins, over several Saturday pickups of each area, totalling over 40 pickups, only two pickups have been successful.”
Fischer also urges people on campus to be more careful when discarding all types of waste. “Students also need to stop putting trash and recycling outside of the dumpsters on the ground. This creates the same problem for our grounds staff and custodians.” She says that people need to put trash in the dumpsters, either by lifting the lid in the front or placing it in the side door. “Our custodians and grounds team should not have to be cleaning up after students in this way. Students are responsible for taking their own waste outside to the dumpster areas and putting them in the correct bins. This is a basic life skill that they will be required to use after they graduate and move into their own housing.”
Outside of Brandeis, composting has benefits for the entire planet, explained Fischer. “Compost preserves vital nutrients and returns them to the soil. Composting also sequesters carbon and reduces landfill methane emissions.” She also said that Massachusetts is at capacity for waste disposal, so the state has to export waste to other states, and that all organizations generating more than one ton of food waste—which includes Brandeis—are required to have composting available.
So how can you help? Make sure you’re only putting allowed materials in the compost bins. The Black Earth website lists acceptable materials: “dairy products, meats and bones, coffee grounds, filters and tea bags, seafood and shells, fruit and vegetables, paper napkins and towels and certified compostable serviceware,” with serviceware being products like utensils and plates. Any other products put in the bins will lead to them being left behind by Black Earth Compost.
To learn more about composting and other types of waste disposal at Brandeis, visit the Office of Sustainability website or the Black Earth Compost website. The Office of Sustainability has created a Waste Diversion training on Qualtrics explaining more about the importance of properly disposing waste and the environmental benefits of recycling and composting. If you’re interested in preserving the compost bins on campus, the training is a good place to start.