You might have learned or noticed that the composting bins have largely disappeared from campus. The reason is that funding for compost collection outside of dining halls was cut for this fiscal year.
What does this mean?
Compost collection will still happen in the following places around campus:
- Dining halls,
- Goodrich Coffee Bar,
- Office kitchenettes (limited compost collection only, including spent coffee grounds, tea bags, compostable coffee pods)
But it won’t happen in other locations around campus. This change started on July 1 and will likely continue through the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2023).
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, institutional compost collection was limited to dining halls but students expressed strong interest and led several efforts to implement compost collection in dorms and other campus locations. The to-go food culture at Williams, which mirrors the to-go culture in the society at large, translates into lots of food, tableware, and to-go containers leaving the dining halls, which in turn increases food and container waste. Since March 2020, Dining Services, Facilities Operations, and the Zilkha Center have been working to identify and right-size an appropriate solution. By reducing waste, we send less waste to the landfills and incinerators, reduce the amount of energy and embodied carbon emissions for the production of both food and to-go ware, and increase the amount of food that goes to feed people. Though waste reduction strategies are typically not money-saving exercises, they do have environmental and often environmental justice-related benefits.
Early on in the pandemic, Dining Services purchased reusable to-go containers in order to reduce the amount of single use compostable containers, but the program had to be modified when staffing shortages kept Dining from being able to keep up with pick up and washing needs of the thousands of reusable containers. Most recently, compost collection bins were placed in strategic high-traffic locations around campus including near dorms.
Why were funds for compost collection cut?
While composting is recognized and valued as a waste reduction strategy (see our Zero Waste efforts below), constraints in the waste management budget meant that this year’s funding request was not granted.
What comes next?
Compost collection will continue in all dining halls, and Dining Services will continue using compostable to-go ware in the retail units (Snack Bar, Eco Cafe). In the other dining units (Whitman’s, 82 Grill, Mission, and Driscoll), Dining plans to reintroduce reusable to-go containers in order reduce the amount of single-use compostable containers and resulting waste that are used, but due to continued staffing shortages, will start the fall semester with compostable containers.
The Zilkha Center will also continue to work with campus partners to figure out how campus-wide compost collection could be restarted.
Other campus Zero Waste efforts
Last academic year, campus stakeholders working on issues of waste, surplus, and procurement, met regularly to develop the Zero Waste Action Plan (ZWAP), which details out the sustainability goals in the college’s strategic plan related to waste. The ZWAP will serve as the college’s pathway for creating a more circular campus in regards to materials, reducing consumption, and diverting waste. Implementing the ZWAP requires long-term commitment and upfront investments and sometimes there are bumps in the road such as the funding cut for campus composting, but in the long-run we are positive we will reach our goals of saving valuable natural resources, reducing climate-damaging carbon emissions, cutting waste hauling expenditures, and practicing the principles of reduce-reuse-recycle.