Composting: finally a reality for UF

Illustration by Sara Nettle.

unnamedIn 2006, President Machen was the first college president to sign the President’s Climate Commitment and set a goal to become zero waste by 2015 and carbon neutral by 2025. That 2015 deadline is fast approaching, and after seven years, the University of Florida is now making last-minute efforts to accomplish that goal.

Since the timeline was set, the university has taken steps in the right direction, including hosting the first carbon neutral college football game and striving to achieve a carbon neutral athletics program. However, there have been few permanent changes to how the school handles waste. With the threat of falling short of the deadline, this is beginning to change.

“We’re the University of Florida; we’re a competitive school, so having the goal holds a lot of weight,” said Taylor Cremo, a recent UF graduate and now the UF project coordinator for Gainesville’s waste company, WCA. “This goal is giving us the sense of urgency that should exist.”

Since Cremo came to Gainesville in 2009, she has seen a steady rise in the culture of sustainability here. This started with the creation of the Office of Sustainability a few years before her arrival.

The creation of organizations like Gators Going Green, an agency of the UF Student Government, only helps to further UF’s rise in sustainability. Cremo got her start as assistant director for the agency and eventually became director. She was a key player in decisions like putting timers in the shower and promoting One Less Car, the university-wide campaign to reduce single-occupancy travel. Part of her job was simply to make the environment more of a priority for students.

“Now I think sustainability has integrated itself in such a way into the general environment of the school that most students should at least know the word sustainability,” Cremo said. “It’s kind of permeated through the school and its culture.”

Last year, UF partnered with WCA in an effort to achieve the university’s 2015 zero waste goal.

Right now, the partnership is tackling campus-wide composting to reduce the school’s waste stream, which currently sends approximately 11,000 tons of waste to the landfill each year. While some trash is unusable and has to go to a landfill, around 15 percent of that waste is organic and compostable.

Composting is a form of waste management that recycles organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil or soil fortifier. WCA is working to make this process an integral part of how UF will reduce its waste flow.

“Our main goal is to not put into the landfill,” Cremo said.

Starting with last year’s football season, all compostable waste produced at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is now sorted by volunteers and taken to Watson C&D, the facility that composts the waste. In addition, WCA has introduced labeled bins for compostable waste, ensuring that compostable materials are used when possible, and has had volunteers sort through and separate out the trash that ends up in the bins.

For its first season, this translated to over 50,000 pounds of compostable waste that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

This step has been key to achieving zero waste at UF, but the stadium is only one of the many producers of organic waste on campus. WCA is working on introducing composting to major facilities at the university, like UF Health Shands Hospital and the dining halls.

“It’s always been an idea in the back of everybody’s head,” Cremo said. “They’ve been talking about composting in dining halls for about seven years now.”

This semester is the first time for the talk to become actualized. The dining halls are run by ARAMARK Corp., a company that has taken basic steps to elevating their environmental standards, like eliminating trays, but has failed to incorporate composting until now. WCA is working with ARAMARK to make composting a viable option in the dining halls at the Reitz Union and the Fresh Food Company by training the staff and providing an outlet for their organic waste.

These efforts made by WCA have been the most measurable and concrete steps toward achieving UF’s zero waste goal. The fast approaching deadline instills a sense of urgency, and it’s the kind of urgency essential if real change is to happen.

Implementation of the composting program has also furthered the culture of sustainability that Cremo sought at UF. She sees the importance in the university being the place in which students go through a paradigm shift in how they see their impact on the environment.

“It’s cool that we’re doing this at a university,” Cremo said. “People learn from it and take it with them wherever they go.”