When organic waste such as food matter goes to the landfill and is stored in absence of oxygen, it does not biodegrade as commonly believed but instead undergoes putrefaction, leading to methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, up to 72 times more potent than C02 (Stop Trashing the Climate, 2008). The alternative practice is called “composting“, where a natural breakdown is mimicked, allowing oxygen to reach the materials so that they may decompose properly. When material is composted rather than thrown away, a valuable soil amendment can be formed and space can be saved space in our landfills as well.
When food is left on one’s plate, the scraps have to go somewhere. Serving tens of thousands of meals every day, Virginia Tech generates a generous volume of food scrap. A food waste study in Spring of 2008 brought to light an opportunity for the university to divert thousands of tons of post consumer food scraps from the landfill to the more sustainable practice of composting. Southgate Center, Dining Services’ central warehouse and pre-prep facility became nearby PME Compost’s first official customer in January 2009. As the company grew and logistics provided, Dining Services was able to expand the effort to other dining facilities. In October of 2009, pre and post-consumer food waste began at Owens Food Court, Hokie Grill, and Personal Touch Catering Center. D2 Dining Facility began composting pre and post-consumer waste this summer. The efforts of these facilities divert thousands of pounds of organic waste from the landfill–over 160 tons to date already in 2010!
VT Dining Services is working to be a leader in sustainability. Composting provides an opportunity to do just that. Every day, we are saving space in our local landfills, preventing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting sustainable agriculture by creating healthy soil amendments from our waste. This is only the beginning: the composting project will expand to other dining centers on campus over the next academic year. As the composting program expands, our footprint gets smaller and smaller.