Compost bins introduced in bid for eco friendly campus


Knox Coulter | Contributing Editor

Compost bins are now located next to trash and recycling bins in the William Pitt Union.

By Vaibhav Gupta, Staff Writer

A new addition to the usual decor has popped up on each floor of the William Pitt Union and the O’Hara Student Center this semester.

Student Affairs and the Office of Sustainability partnered up to place compost bins throughout O’Hara and the WPU on August 16, taking the first steps in completing a greater program designed to achieve the goal of composting 50% of campus food waste by 2025.

The pilot program is part of Pitt’s Sustainability Plan, first implemented in 2017, which outlines initiatives designed to make Pitt’s campus more environmentally friendly. According to the plan, this effort could assist in the greater goal of reducing the 2017 levels of landfill waste by 25% by 2030.

According to Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator at Pitt, the extensive foot traffic in O’Hara and the WPU earned the buildings their spots in the pilot program.

“These two buildings have the potential to make a huge impact on waste diversion here at Pitt since they are so heavily used by students, staff and faculty,” Ninos said.

This program will add to the preexisting compost opportunities on campus, which include the bins at the Eureka Building, the Pitt Farmers Market and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, along with other large campus events like Bigelow Bash, which has had compost bins present on site in recent years.

According to Ellen Cadden, a senior environmental studies major and sustainability program associate, composting at Pitt has increased in recent years, prompting collaborations between University departments and student groups and inspiring a University-wide program.

“I would say that when I was a first year student in 2016, the only compost I was exposed to was at Orientation Week events,” Cadden said in an email. “With the help of student groups and University departments, the combination of expanding Green Certified/zero waste events and hosting weekly drop-off stations has created the exciting opportunity we have today.”

Ninos said the compost project will be carried out in partnership with AgRecycle, Pennsylvania’s largest source-separated composting company. AgRecycle will remove compost from the University and recycle it at an off-campus location.

On a monthly basis, the University will receive statistics relating to the amount of composted material from both the WPU and O’Hara, which will help the University understand the waste demands across locations.

These metrics, delivered in tonnages based on each individual compost container, will allow the pilot program to track the compost quantities. The effectiveness of the program will determine how future composting initiatives will be approached and implemented.

Cadden said the initiative has also introduced the challenge of preventing any contamination in the compost bins. If the contents of the bin are too contaminated — meaning, they contain high quantities of materials such as plastics and metals — they will not be accepted as compost and will be thrown away as waste.

To prevent this, signs will be posted near the bins to remind students and staff of appropriate items to compost. According to Caden, if you are unsure about whether to compost a particular item, it is better to throw away the item in the general trash.

According to the PittSustainability, some of the products that are available to compost include food waste of any kind, such as meat, dairy, bones or coffee grounds. Other acceptable items to compost include compostable dinnerware, utensils and cups certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute, as well as materials like paper towels and pizza boxes.
Lynn Dang, an undeclared sophomore at Pitt, said she is proud the University is making an effort to increase the accessibility to compost bins on campus. As a member of Pitt’s Student Government Board, she highlighted the group’s effort in aiding this move toward greater opportunities for composting in the past year.

She highlights that having compost bins accessible to students on campus is a small part in the larger process of making the University more sustainable overall.

“I am glad that there will be more access to the bins year round, unlike last year,” Dang said. “The University of Pittsburgh is taking small steps to make compost bins more accessible in other areas.”

Cadden said the composting initiative is part of a broader effort to look at more sustainable options in the University, and that Pitt continues to make larger strides in that effort.

“In just three years I’ve seen a significant shift in the culture on campus relating to sustainability,” Cadden said. “And it is exciting to have been a part of it.”