By this time last year, Brandeis students had correctly sorted three and a half thousand pounds of compost into the green bins outside residence halls, according to associate director of Sustainability Programs Mary Fischer.
That’s three and a half thousand pounds of food waste and certified compostable items that didn’t end up in a landfill; instead, it made the journey to Black Earth Compost’s facility to decompose into fertile compost that can be added to soil to help plants grow.
But as of Sep. 29, this year our residence halls have only contributed about 400 pounds of compost to Black Earth’s collection: 31 hundred pounds less than we had collected by this time last year.
This apparent discrepancy is not because the compost bins aren’t being used: it’s because they aren’t being used correctly.
When students put non-compostable items into the compost toters, the entire bin is considered contaminated. Not only is it gross and unethical to ask custodians and waste-collectors to pick through the bins to remove non-compostable items, it’s also unsafe. Because of that, when students toss items that can’t be composted into the compost bins, those items and all of the compostable items in the bins have to be thrown away into the trash.
The problem has gotten so bad that between 14 resident halls and four collection attempts at each one, there have only been two successful compost collections from resident halls so far this year. That’s about a 0.36 percent success rate for our compost collection; all of the other attempted collections have been contaminated with non-compostable goods, and consequently, that waste goes to the dumpster to be brought to the landfill. Boo!
All of these failed attempts to collect compost not only waste time, money and energy, but they also waste diesel used to fuel the compost-collecting trucks and they unnecessarily spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because of the unnecessary transportation between Black Earth’s composting facility in Gloucester and Brandeis.
Because of this, if the compost contamination doesn’t come to an end by Oct. 25, 2021, the compost toters outside residence halls will be removed, and all students will have no choice but to dispose of compostable items from their dorms in the dumpsters.
Even in 2020 when we composted correctly more often, Brandeis accumulated a whopping 1,366 tons of trash, according to the waste diversion dashboard. Composting gives us an easy, alternative way to dispose of food waste and certified compostable items so we can reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills, where they take much longer to decompose and create methane due to a lack of oxygen, forcing them to take up more space for longer periods of time, instead of becoming useful compost that can be used to nurture new plant growth.
According to the EPA, landfills also emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and account for 17 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. Methane is 80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Keeping compostable items out of landfills is a good way to reduce your ecological footprint.
We only have one earth, and we should all make a greater effort to keep it clean and free of unnecessary waste. Please, for the love of compost, do not throw anything except for food waste or certified compostable items into the green compost toters outside residence halls (or anywhere else on camps, for that matter). This includes plastic trash bags!
If you are ever unsure whether something can be composted, it’s better to throw it in the dumpster than it is to risk contaminating an entire batch of compost.
If you find yourself inspired to take even more steps to save the compost, then please spread the word about this issue! Urge your friends and other fellow Brandeis community members to do their part by using the green bins only for food waste and certified compostable items, otherwise we risk losing our opportunity to compost at all.
Last academic year, we composted 61.4 tons of waste in the toters outside residence halls alone; let’s protect our compost and keep it up!