Commentary Ohio University

CG Column: OU composter expansion a good step toward sustainability

By CG Commentary Editor Lane Robbins

Ohio University was recently awarded $1,088,571 in stimulus funds to expand the school’s composting facility. The new upgrade will triple the amount of compost the facility can process.

It won’t address OU’s other environmental problems, such as the school’s reliance on coal, but the upgrade will be a welcome step in the right direction.

The grant upgrades OU’s already state-of-the-art composter, which is the largest in-vessel composting system at any university or college in the country. It’s also the first full-scale composting project at any Ohio college or university.

Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. and the University of Wisconsin, Madison may upstage OU with their geothermal energy plan and natural gas/biomass blend projects, respectively. However, no school in the nation can touch our composting system.

With the upgrade, OU’s compost facility will add a four-ton expandable in-vessel system in addition the two-ton system already in place. According to the OU Office of Sustainability, that will allow OU to compost all its pre- and post-consumer dining waste.

The upgrade will also include a 31.1-kilowatt solar array to completely power the new facility. An industrial shredder will process the biodegradable utensils and dishes from campus eateries to aid their breakdown.

Concern has been raised that plates, cutlery and containers are not degrading quickly enough to keep up with the composting system’s cycle. However, I think that’s a small problem compared to our nation’s endlessly growing landfill waste and global warming.

There are also plans to construct a 1.4-gallon solar thermal water heating system to allow workers to clean the compost collection bins with collected rainwater. A waste-oil burner will also heat the pole barn, which houses the composter, for the comfort of workers during the winter.

We as a nation and a global society must learn to produce less waste. Why? Because it’s contributing to global warming. Organic decay in landfills releases methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

According to the U.S. EPA, food waste accounts for about 13 percent of all trash generation in the U.S. Today, it is also more difficult to secure new landfill permits. It is becoming a social imperative for people to recycle and compost; not just an ideal.

Unfortunately, Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash. We produce 4.6 pounds of trash per person per day, according to the EPA’s most recent figures. More than half of that ends up in landfills or is incinerated.

Despite those daunting facts, OU is helping secure a greener future via composting. The school still has many problems and the expansion should be the first part of a larger effort. Nevertheless, it’s still a great beginning.