Ruskin goes green with new composting program


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Ruskin Hall.

By Samantha Salz, Staff Writer

Many of the fruit rinds, old leftovers and used napkins are often destined for the garbage cans on campus. But thanks to a group of Pitt students on a mission to make compost bins just as accessible, there’s a new option for students. 

The Compost Collective, made up of Amanda Lee, Celeste Calderon and Fiona Benge, piloted a composting program for students living in Ruskin Hall last month. The collective aims to make composting an easy and routine practice for students living in apartment-style residence halls. 

The group started the program as a project in a sustainability class taught by Ward Allebach, an instructor in the geology and environmental science department.

The program’s main compost bin is currently located in the first floor laundry room of Ruskin Hall. AgRecycle, a Pittsburgh-based composting facility, collects the filled compost bins that an industrial composter will process into organic soil. 

Lee, a sophomore environmental engineering major, said Ruskin’s location and apartment-style rooms made the residence hall a great candidate for the Compost Collective’s pilot program. 

“We noticed that there was not a lot of easy access to composting on campus, especially for students that don’t live near the center of campus,” Lee said. “We especially noticed that apartment-style residence halls produce a lot more food waste because we all have kitchens and we also don’t need meal plans.”

According to Calderon, an undeclared sophomore, a lot of residence halls’ food scraps and waste is compostable. Pitt Sustainability also says pizza boxes, napkins, tissues, shredded newspapers and other food waste can be composted.

“We can do anything,” Calderon said. “From cutting vegetables, coffee grounds, or any compostable products, the utensils in the dining hall, plates or cups. Anything that says compostable.” 

To ensure that this pilot program launched successfully, the Compost Collective received funding and support from the Pitt Green Fund, an organization that supports student-initiated sustainability projects using money from the Student Activities Fee, and Thriftsburgh. 

Rachel Vertucci, a junior supply chain and global management major and director of the Green Fund, said the allocations board saw the project as an effective solution to issues surrounding food waste.

“The Compost Collective applied for funding from Green Fund in late February. We decided to contribute because we believe composting is an important way to divert food waste from the landfills,” Vertucci said. “The Green Fund contributed more than $1,000 to the composting initiative in Ruskin Hall by purchasing 75 individual compost bins to be used in the residents’ apartments.”

According to Lee, 22 apartments have opted to receive a compost bin so far. But many other Ruskin residents also contribute to the main compost bin using their own containers. 

She also said the program is already making a very significant impact even though it is still in its very early stages. Within the first two weeks alone, the Compost Collective gathered 23 pounds of food waste. Lee said that is about 816 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, or driving a car 930 miles.

“It’s pretty significant, and that was only in the first two weeks,” Lee said. “We’re hoping that [during] April, we’re going to see a lot bigger numbers.”

Nick Goodfellow, Pitt’s sustainability coordinator for Business & Auxiliary Services, said if the program’s success continues, it may soon expand beyond just Ruskin Hall. 

“I have been working with Amanda and her team on the Ruskin Hall composting pilot,” Goodfellow said. “Ruskin Hall is the only residence hall with a compost pilot program at the moment. The group’s findings will help us better understand the demand for composting in apartment-style residence halls and how best to manage residence hall compost programs.”

In order to share their findings and push for the continuation and expansion of this program, the Compost Collective is presenting at Pitt’s 15th Annual Sustainability Symposium on Apr. 22. In addition, Lee said the group is looking for students to help solidify the program as it potentially evolves beyond the current scope.

Lee said if the program expands, the compost ambassadors will promote the program among their fellow residents and serve as a point of contact between the Compost Collective and each residence hall. 

“We also found that since we’re running a pilot project, it’s super important to have one person in the building who [serves as] a point of contact to help the program go well,” Lee said. “We are looking for people who are interested in helping us out in the future [as] ‘compost ambassadors’ for their building next year if we’re able to expand and get composts in other buildings.” 

Though the Compost Collective’s program is still growing, Vertucci said programs like theirs are important when it comes to meeting University-wide sustainability goals.

“Pitt has a goal to divert 50% of food waste to compost by 2025. If students begin to compost within their residence halls, they are helping Pitt to reach their sustainability goals,” Vertucci said.

Lee said the Compost Collective is quite proud of the program’s contributions thus far and is working on accomplishing the collective’s mission.

“We are super excited to see such great participation in our program, especially in its early stages,” Lee said. “We are hopeful that decision makers at Pitt will see our success through the data and feedback that we have collected and help us expand to more apartment-style residence halls for the upcoming school year.”