Hitting the "grounds" running with office coffee compost

Coffee has been a staple of office culture for as long as anyone can remember.  In the 1990s and 2000s Keurig stormed onto the scene and transformed office coffee from the shared coffee pot to individualized choice – and lots of waste.  You may have seen the creative backlash.

In the summer of 2019, the Provost’s Office proposed that the college move away from Keurig coffee pods in favor of machines that produced less waste.

In the summer and fall of 2019, the VP for Finance and Administration Office took the lead on conducting a campus-wide inventory of office coffee machines and researching machine options.  Departments were offered a choice between a couple of different WB Mason machines, all of which can use compostable pods.  The pods available through the WB website are compostable, and although they are individually wrapped, most of the wrappers are compostable too.

The Zilkha Center and Facilities Operations began working with offices in late winter 2020 to close the loop and ensure that the pods themselves were collected and composted. And then the pandemic happened, the college went remote, and the program was  put on hold.  This past summer and fall, the Zilkha Center and Facilities Custodial team began working to revive the program.  Ricky Harrington, Custodial Services Manager, has championed reducing plastic in our waste stream and with partners in Facilities procurement department, we have sourced compostable bags for the office compost collection bins.

Currently office coffee and tea bags are collected in 29 kitchenettes around campus, picked up monthly by Colin & Bernie of the college’s Recycling Team, and hauled to the composting Facility in North Bennington on a monthly basis – along with the rest of the college’s food waste & compostables.  A few of these offices also collect paper towels in the same compost stream.  A couple more office compost collection programs will start up in the spring of 2022.  If your office isn’t already in the loop and wants to get involved, contact the Zilkha Center​.Lucy Green holding up a bag of compostable materials

One actively involved office on campus is the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Lucy Green, the Departmental Administrative Assistant, leads the coffee compost implementation and advocacy for the office. She says that there have been numerous benefits to the program, including a general reduction in plastic waste on her floor. Lucy explains that, “maybe it [the coffee composting program] got some people thinking more about sustainability and all the little things we can do to help. It’s good to know that the coffee grounds, wrappers, and now, with the new cross-campus composting program, paper towels, tea bags and wooden stirrers are going to be composted instead of to the landfill.” Lucy champions sustainability in her office, and is proud to support resource management as outlined in Williams’ annual staff performance reviews. Lucy “believe[s] strongly that everyone can look for ways to manage resources effectively and advantageously for the college and beyond!”

How does this fit into Williams’s sustainability goals?  Increasing composting is one of the college’s strategic goals in the Responsible Consumption section of the strategic plan (p. 23)

Stay tuned: The Zilkha Center is working with campus stakeholders to draft a Zero Waste Action Plan, which will detail out the strategies to achieve the waste goals in the strategic plan.  Update July 2022: The Zero Waste Action Plan has been published.  Read more here.

-Mike Evans