Composting system makes its way through NU campus

Paulina Firozi

In an effort that has taken about two years to implement, nuCuisine is composting food and paper waste from dining halls and Norris University Center. Until SB99 passed in Illinois in May 2009, commercial composting was outlawed in Illinois, prohibiting Northwestern from establishing a composting program.

The NU program, which officially began April 30, will take compostable materials, such as preparation waste and leftovers from plates, and send them to a compost facility run by Veolia Environmental Services.

Pam Yee, district marketing manager for nuCuisine, said composting is currently occuring only in Elder dining hall. Elder was designated as a pilot facility for the program because of its small size.

Yee said people are excited about the efforts, but there is still a learning curve because the program is only two weeks old.

“We used to ask students to scrape food off their plate before putting them in the tray return,” she said. “We are now asking them to leave it on the plate, and we’ll be taking that waste and composting it.”

Yee said in the future, nuCuisine may begin stationing compost bins near tray returns that students can use to dispose of any compostable materials. She also said there are plans for student groups to help educate students about composting. Signs have been posted in Elder as well as in other dining halls to inform students about the new program. In Allison dining hall, for example, a sign by the tray return tells students what cannot be composted, such as bones, grease, gloves and rubber bands.

Mark Silberg, outgoing president of GREEN House and the ASG senator for Students for Ecological and Environmental Development, will be in Sargent dining hall Friday to help educate students about the value of composting. He said he is excited the University is advancing its sustainability efforts.

“A lot of our peer institutions are already doing programs like this,” he said. “Northwestern is slow to respond to sustainability, so I am happy to see we’re taking a big step forward. We’re seeing the value in composting and being responsible for our waste and doing something productive with it.”

Steve Mangan, district manager for nuCuisine, said so far things have been going well and efforts have been mostly geared toward getting the right containers and taking the food to the compost facility in an efficient manner. He said he hopes eventually nuCuisine will be able to focus more on educating people about compostable waste and expand the program to other businesses in Evanston.

Silberg said he hopes the program can bring more composting efforts into dining halls, such as adding single-use disposable and compostable items such as utensils and take-out trays. He said the impetus for further changes will have to come from all NU students in addition to groups like SEED.

“Certainly the students are going to have to have a voice in the policies,” Silberg said in regards to encouraging the University to continue sustainability efforts. “If we push them hard enough and give them reason for change, there’s no reason we can’t make progress.”

Another goal, Mangan said, is to eventually get the composted waste to farms that produce food for NU so that the benefits can be directed back toward the University.

Yee said after the trial efforts in Elder throughout the rest of the quarter, nuCuisine hopes to begin composting in remaining campus dining halls by Fall Quarter.

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