By Fritz Schroder
Xavier and Chartwells, the University’s food service provider, plan to implement a new program to divert all of the food waste generated in the new Hoff Dining Commons out of the landfill. Xavier will utilize the services of Future Organics Inc., which is a corporation that specializes in waste material transportation throughout the Midwest. Future Organics transports waste products to either permitted composting facilities or anaerobic digester facilities. The digester facilities burn the waste materials and collect the methane gas to be used for energy.
Future Organics will pick up the food waste and transport it to the two permitted composting facilities in the area: Marvin’s Organic Gardens and Brousch Farm. The reason only composting facilities will be used for Xavier’s food waste is that food waste in particular does not work well in anaerobic digesters. For example, chicken bones take a long time to break down in digesters and can clog up the system. Marvin’s Organic Gardens, located in Lebanon, is a 10-acre composting facility that takes waste from a variety of sources throughout the Cincinnati area including Walmart, Westin Hotels and the Cincinnati Zoo. Brousch Farm is similar and is located in Clarksville, Ohio.
There are many benefits to composting waste. Perhaps the most important benefit is that it keeps recyclable materials out of landfills. This reduces the amount of leachate that leaks into surrounding communities and waterways, conserves space so that other materials may be placed in the landfill, and cuts down on the release of methane into the atmosphere. Properly turned compost material undergoes aerobic respiration, while in a landfill all of the waste undergoes anaerobic respiration because it is never exposed to oxygen. In the compost the aerobic respiration produces carbon dioxide while in the landfill anaerobic respiration creates the more potent greenhouse gas methane (Shreeves). The carbon emissions as a result of the release of methane in landfills is much more significant than the carbon emission emitted by compost in the form of carbon dioxide.
The program is made possible by a large walk-in refrigerator in the new dining facility that will allow the food waste to be safely stored for Future Organics to pick it up once a week. The current plan is to store the food waste in 10 96-gallon wheeled carts in the walk-in refrigerator. Three fourths of the food waste is post-consumer waste, meaning it consists of leftovers that will come directly off plates on the belt leading back into the kitchen. The other fourth is kitchen scraps that come from the kitchen where the food is prepared. Chartwells has made an effort to eliminate all plastics and other non-compostable items from the Hoff Dining Commons. This includes items such as individual peanut butter, jelly and cream cheese containers. This allows all of the food waste to be put directly into the food waste containers to be taken by Future Organics. A common misconception is that meat, dairy and bread products should not be used in compost but in a controlled compost facility this is not the case. The reason for not using these products is that they can smell and attract animals, but as long as the compost is turned and these items are covered this is not an issue.
While no start date for the program has been set, Physical Plant’s commitment to this program is a significant step towards making Xavier a sustainable campus, and for this reason the University should be applauded. There have been long-term discussions among faculty, administrators and students about creating an urban farm where Xavier could do on-site composting. Until this larger vision materializes, this program is a good solution to managing our food waste in an environmentally responsible manner.