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Center for

Environment & Society

Down with Dirt

Date: May 10, 2013
Washington College’s composting program turns dining hall food waste into gardeners’ gold.

Spring is here and with it comes the yearning to play in the dirt, but as every gardener knows, your carrots are only as good as the soil they grow in. Enter Washington College’s composting program, which uses leftover salad bar food scraps from the dining hall to create rich compost, which will help grow, well, more salad stuff.

A healthy heap of compost.

Begun in 2005, the program is a team effort by Buildings and Grounds, Dining Services and the Student Environmental Alliance. “The compost project on campus is a fantastic example of partnerships here at Washington College,” says Michael Hardesty ’05, co-founder of the program and Chesapeake Semester coordinator at the Center for Environment & Society. Since its inception, the composting program has steadily grown. Zena Maggitti, director of Dining Services, says 100 percent of salad bar scraps are now collected, and this spring the program collected nearly 11,500 pounds of veggie waste. That’s about the average weight of an African elephant—meaning that a whole lot of waste, which would’ve otherwise gone to a landfill, is now being reused and redistributed here to keep our lawns and gardens green.

The amount of compost generated this year weighed the same as an African Elephant!

            The program truly is a team effort. First, Dining Services staff members collect salad bar scraps and sort them, assuring that no non-compostable materials, such as meats, cheeses and other products with high protein content are present. Then Buildings and Grounds staffers weigh and move the materials to the compost center on the campus, where they and members of the SEA chop, turn, and “grow” the compost. They have to ensure the proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen, amount of water, airflow, and fungal growth in the compost material to develop the necessary microbes that will create the highest quality compost in the shortest amount of time.

            Until now, compost has been used all over the campus, but soon it will be used primarily to nourish the campus’ new vegetable garden. The program is also open to anyone who wants to pay a one-time $10 fee for a bucket, which you can then bring to the compost center to get a bucketful of the good stuff for your home garden.

Another project in the works to help reduce food waste and encourage sustainability at Washington College is called “Project Clean Plate.” Generated through a partnership between the dining hall, SEA and CES, this awareness campaign focuses on encouraging people to take smaller portions so that they throw away less food and reduce food waste. 

WC students learning about compost.

For more information on the compost program at Washington College contact Michael Hardesty (mhardesty2@washcoll.edu). 

Last modified on May. 10th, 2013 at 3:00pm by Rachel Field.