Food Waste to Fertilizer: Dining Services Launches Composting Pilot Program
Food waste will help gardens grow and promote healthy landscapes on the Michigan Tech campus thanks to the new composting unit in the dish room of Wadsworth Hall kitchen. About the size of a residential washing machine, the electrically operated unit can process up to 250 pounds of food waste in a 12-to-15-hour cycle. It generates water as a byproduct of the hydration process, reducing compostable waste weight and volume 83 to 93% and producing an end product that can be used to improve soil.
Dining Services is currently piloting the system using pre-consumer food waste—material generated in the kitchen during food preparation—but plans to expand collection to post-consumer wastes as dining hall operations return to normal. Students are involved in the project on the research end, analyzing the dry, granular end product, which appears similar to oatmeal flakes or sawdust, to determine its most beneficial uses as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Their research will help the Grounds Department decide how best to use the product for operations including turf management and maintenance of Michigan Tech’s numerous gardens.
This sustainability initiative comes at an opportune time. Through the course of the global pandemic, Dining Services has worked hard to adapt to changing guidelines while safely providing a variety of food options for students, faculty, and staff on a daily basis. A significant increase in food-related wastes, including takeout containers, carry-out bags, and post-consumer food waste is an unfortunate consequence. Adjustments were made to manage the increased trash volume, but the best alternative is to reduce waste volume altogether.
A 2019 Recycling Infrastructure Grant awarded to the University from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has helped to fund a number of recycling initiatives on campus, including the Ecovim 250® in-vessel composting unit. A portion of the unit’s costs was also covered by a matching contribution from Dining Services. If you have any questions about the composting pilot at Wadsworth Hall, contact Dining Services at 7-2664.