Recycle that salad
A.S. Recycling and Recology join forces in newly expanded CSUC composting program
Reaching the Associated Students of Chico State University’s stated goal of zero waste by 2015 will take a concentrated effort. Success depends not only on the cooperation of students, faculty and administration, but also on an army of red worms and billions upon billions of microorganisms.
“We’re at 65 or 70 percent [of zero waste] now, and the new compost should move us to about 85 percent,” said Eli Goodsell, Recycling Operations coordinator for A.S. Recycling and the man largely responsible for orchestrating this cooperation. “Food waste is such a big part of it that once we get that out of the way we can look at the smaller things. We think composting is our biggest step toward getting there.”
Though Chico State has been composting for more than 20 years, a number of changes to the way they do it will take effect this semester.
“We’re adding post-consumer compost bins and compostable plates to the Marketplace [Café] at BMU,” Goodsell said, explaining that post-consumer compost includes anything the consumer has left on his or her plate—fruit rinds, leftover vegetables, little bits of pizza and hamburgers. “We currently do Whitney Hall and all the coffee shops on campus, and we’re hoping to double our composting efforts this semester.”
Also changing is the destination of the compost. “All our compost used to go to the University Farm,” Goodsell explained, “but this semester we’re contracting with local waste hauler Recology …
“With the farm, we were only able to bring certain things and they only wanted a certain amount, but Recology can take as much as we can give them,” said Goodsell. “We collect it six days a week and they pick it up three times a week.”
In addition to increasing the amount of composted material, Goodsell said the new program has added educational value: “At Whitney, and later when we move to Sutter, it’s more of a behind-the-scenes operation, with employees scraping off plates. But at the Marketplace it will be the customers’ responsibility to drop the material into the bins. They’ll be able to see what material is compostable and what is not, like cups with plastic liners or plastic utensils. We hope it gets them into the habit of doing that, and when they see how easy composting can be … it will create more of a call and more of a push to get local businesses and eateries to do composting.
“We don’t just want people to do more composting, but also to start looking at the products they’re buying and understand what is compostable,” Goodsell continued. “Just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean it’s compostable—it just means that it falls into smaller pieces. A big piece of plastic might break down into small pieces of plastic that will still eventually end up in the ocean. And just because something says its recyclable doesn’t mean that it won’t end up in a landfill.
“We really want people to be mindful of what they’re buying,” he stressed, “and we’re here to help them figure it out. We also hope people will find out what businesses in town are being environmentally and socially responsible.”
To meet these ends, A.S. Recycling runs a recycling hotline, provides information and resources on its website and operates a compost display area and demonstration garden between Yolo Hall and the train tracks. Goodsell noted that about 400 to 500 pounds of compost material a week goes there.
“We have two compost education coordinators who are students, and they take the food scraps and make them into compost there,” he said. “We also provide free workshops for the public, and they have open hours where anyone can stop by and learn about composting, organic gardening and things like that. We usually get about 700 people a year coming to the workshops.”
Goodsell said the expanded composting efforts have a positive fiscal impact: “It costs a little out of the A.S. Recycling budget to start it off because it’s our employees’ time, but A.S. as a whole will actually save money. According to a waste audit we did last spring, nearly 80 percent of our trash is food waste, so overall we’re reducing our waste volume. With the green movement, a lot of businesses think it’s going to cost them, but time and time again it’s been proven that if you do it right, recycling and composting lead to significant savings to the expense of waste hauling.”
While the Associated Students see the profit in savings, Recology benefits directly.
“We’re paying to have the material picked up and then they make it into an organic compost, which is sold,” Goodsell said. “So they have a service revenue and then a product revenue coming in. There are not many types of manufacturing where you’re paid to take the materials you need and for the product that comes from the material. It shows how composting as a whole is a pretty good business model.”
According to Recology Operations Manager Carl Peters, Chico State is not the only entity benefiting from the company’s updated composting services.
“Recology Butte Colusa Counties is now able to offer to a select group of customers the ability to compost food scraps,” said Peters, noting it’s the only commercial food-composting program in Butte County. “We can now approach a business with the ability to further reduce their landfill contribution in addition to mixed recycling, green waste recycling, plastics recycling, Styrofoam recycling and construction and demolition recycling programs. Costco, Enloe Hospital, Sierra Nevada Brewery and Butte College are a few of the recognizable names in Chico that are currently participating in the program.”
Peters said Recology hopes to be able to offer a residential food-scraps pilot program to complement and mirror the current type of services in the near future.