A Useful Waste


See how OU’s composting initiatives adds up to other universities in the state

Taylor Johnston / For The Post

Compared to other universities in the state, Ohio University’s dining halls reduce the greatest amount of food waste through composting.

Uneaten food is thrown away, then dumped into a landfill. In 2016, landfills accounted for 16 percent of the United States’ methane emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Taylor Johnston | ILLUSTRATION

OU began composting in 2009, and the facility was expanded in 2012. The university’s compost facility is one of the largest in-vessel facilities in the nation, Steve Mack, director of Facilities Management, said. In-vessel composting is a system that confines compost materials into a building or container.

Of Mid-American Conference schools in Ohio, OU, Bowling Green State University and the University of Akron track their composting. Of the three, OU produces the most. It is unclear whether the University of Toledo tracks composting — the university did not provide public records requested by The Post before press time and did not respond to multiple follow-up emails.

OU averages about 504 tons of compost each year, while BGSU and Akron average fewer than 70 tons per year.

BGSU, Miami University and Akron use outside compost haulers to transport their compost to outside facilities. Kent State University does not compost.

“There has been no composting,” Stephanie Jones, a special assistant in the Kent State University General Counsel’s Office, said in an email in response to a request for composting data.

When universities use outside sources to compost, it has its costs.

It costs BGSU $30 to transport each ton to its compost facility and $79 per ton for Akron. Miami paid an average of about $1,300 per month at its previous facility and approximately $150 to $1,100 at its most recent facility.

OU handles its own composting and does not use any outside facilities or sources. It costs the university about $240 per ton of compost.

The facility can also manage all forms of organic waste, speed the processing of waste into soil, control odors and also minimize staff time for operations, Mack said.

At each of the dining halls, staff place both pre-consumer and post-consumer waste in collection bins.

“Culinary provides compost bins for non-edible produce waste at their Central Food Facility, compost bins in each of the dining court kitchen areas for food waste and compost bins in each dining court dish room to collect post-consumer food waste,” Rich Neumann, director of Culinary Services, said in an email.

OU became a ‘trayless’ campus by the beginning of the 2017 Fall Semester. Since then, the university has seen a decrease in waste.

“Based on studies conducted by the OHIO Zero Waste Team at the Voinovich School, post-consumer plate waste has dropped by more than half – from 4.65 ounces of waste per [plate] with trays to 2.30 ounces of waste per plate without trays,” Neumann said in an email.

Culinary Services has also taken more initiative to educate students about the negative effects of waste on campus, he said.

“Signs are posted in all Dining Courts encouraging students to take only what they know they will eat and to not be shy about asking for smaller portions,” Neumann said in an email.

Food waste tips

All of the dining halls on campus have multiple self-serve stations that allow students to take only what they will eat.

“Such self-service stations have had a positive effect on reducing food waste,” Neumann said in an email. “Smaller plates and bowls have also been introduced to reduce post-consumer food waste through more controlled portion sizes.”

After the facility goes through its composting process, the composted materials are then used in soil throughout the campus, Mack said.

While the university only composts items from the dining halls, it may collect from residence halls or other campus markets later on.

“Currently, we do not have the infrastructure to begin collection at the residence halls; however, it is something that we will evaluate in the future,” Mack said in an email.

A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Mid-American Conference. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

Development by: Taylor Johnston / For The Post

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