The University Record, April 22, 1998

Pilot program funds food waste recycling program

Waste that is generated during food preparation in U-M residence halls has been recycled as part of a composting pilot program funded by the Washtenaw County Department of Public Works. Photo Services file photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Ginger L. Zabel
News and Information Services

The University's food composting program continues to be a significant part of its recycling efforts, thanks to the Washtenaw County Department of Public Works' "Green Backs for Green Acts" grants program.

The grants program awards $500-$20,000 to implement innovative ideas that keep solid waste out of area landfills.

The food composting pilot program teams Grounds and Waste Management Services in the Plant Operations Division and the City of Ann Arbor to take food that is typically discarded during preparation in University residence halls and deposit it in the city's landfill composting site.

Such projects may be the wave of the future, according to Ray Ayer, Ann Arbor's assistant to the director of the solid waste department. "Taking organic material out of the ground and replacing it with chemicals and other manufactured fertilizers doesn't make sense," he says. "With composting, we can put those organics back into the land instead of dealing with the potential problems of run-off."

In addition, Ayer says that the cost of composting in Ann Arbor is much lower than the cost of trashing. Due to transportation and landfill space costs, sending refuse to the landfill costs $9.59 per cubic yard. Compost waste in the Ann Arbor facility, however, typically costs $4-$6 per cubic yard. "We want to turn trash into cash," Ayer says. "Once the landfill space is used up, there's nothing left to do with it. We can put the 10 acres used for composting to work again and again. We sell approximately 10,000 cubic yards a year to local buyers."

Preparatory food waste such as carrot tops, vegetable peelings, onion skins, egg shells, fruit and salad trimmings, old bread and bagels, coffee grounds and filters, paper cartons and napkins normally are discarded. Now they accumulate in 32-gallon green carts in South Quad, East Quad and Mary Markley residence halls.

Grounds and Waste Management Services collects the food three times a week and takes it to the 10-acre Ann Arbor Composting Facility. There, it is put into windrows, long piles mixed with wood chips, leaves, and other yard debris. The windrows are mixed or turned so that air and moisture can circulate, speeding up the decomposition process.

After several weeks, the material is cured and screened and ready for purchase for personal landscaping and gardening.

During the first four months of operation, Dining Services collected more than 10 tons of the waste from the three halls. As of Dec. 1, 1997, Markley recovered seven tons, South Quad recovered five tons, and East Quad recovered three tons. For South Quad, that was a 7 percent waste reduction for the period, according to a University report.

Patrick Lasecki, food service manager for Markley, says food service personnel greeted the program with general enthusiasm. "This is the next step in the University's recycling effort. Some of our older workers see this as a way to help make things better for their grandchildren or the next generation."

Lasecki says that the prep food recycling program has been readily accepted by the food preparation workers. A one-hour training session provided information on the "do's and the don'ts" of the program, and food waste containers were placed close to other waste containers for convenience.

Jane Reading-Boyd, Waste and Recycling foreman, says the grant will run out by May. The University plans to evaluate the program and should know by June if it will be expanded or continued in its present form.

To buy compost from the city, call 971-8600.