LARAMIE — Some University of Wyoming students are working to make their campus greener and more sustainable by exploring the costs, benefits and need for large-scale composting — an effort that might radically change the way UW deals with the waste it generates.
Working under the banner of the Zero Waste Initiative, students Zayne Hebbler and Japheth Frauendienst are leading a movement to gather data on the amount of food and other items UW regularly sends to the landfill.
“The University of Wyoming lacks large-scale composting,” Hebbler said. “So, what we’re really finding is a lot of the waste that we’re creating that has to go to the landfill actually could be removed if we had institutional composting.”
Currently, UW is capable of small-scale composting through its student farm, ACRES, but a system of large-scale — or institutional — composting would allow people across campus to dispose of meat, dairy and other compostable items that currently end up in landfills.
Institutional composting could save the university money when it comes to garbage collections, as well as making campus more environmentally friendly, Frauendienst said.
“Once waste is being diverted, it would make our university a lot more competitive in terms of cost reductions and could overall increase sustainability,” he said. “That would initiate more sustainable initiatives, hence, making our university more appealing to incoming students.”
The pair recently presented the initiative to the UW Board of Trustees, and studied the amount of waste generated during the board’s three-day March meeting while encouraging the trustees and others present to divert as much waste as possible to compost.
The results showed a 12 percent diversion rate — meaning 12 percent of all trash was diverted away from the landfill into composting or recycling.
Hebbler told the trustees this means there is “a lot of room for improvement.”
“We are kind of searching for that 90 percent diversion rate,” he said. “Really, the beauty of it is most of the waste we had going to landfill was all food waste. Being that it’s the scraps of dinner left on the plates and that type of stuff, with institutional composting, that can be solved.”
The Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources has been working toward the goal of zero waste for at least two years now, establishing a zero waste program during the Shepard Symposium in 2016. The annual event, which commemorates Matthew Shepard and explores topics of social justice, continues to implement a zero waste system every year.
With the Haub School, individuals involved with the initiative are working to establish a culture of zero waste, and throughout the current academic year, Hebbler, Frauendienst and others are working to study the campus’ capacity for composting.
Next week, the initiative members plan to conduct a campus-wide waste audit, collecting hard data on what and how much UW throws away. The waste audit’s findings will inform a feasibility study being conducted by students in the College of Business, said Rachael Budowle, an assistant lecturer with the Haub School.
“They’re looking at the costs and benefits of 3-4 different compost scenarios that other peer institutions use for institutional composting,” she said. “And that would allow us, through those multiple scenarios, to compost meat, dairy, compostable to-go ware — all of those things that we’re not currently able to compost with small-scale composting through ACRES Student Farms.”
Budowle teaches a campus sustainability capstone course, where students started pushing for institutional composting.
The goal is to eventually propose a plan to implement large-scale composting on the UW campus, drawing on the various studies and data collected by students across the university.
“We want to make sure we have everything covered, so we want to make sure that we’ve done all of our research if we’re going to pitch something like this,” Hebbler said. “So, really the big thing for all of the students on campus, it’s something that would make us competitive with peer institutions … The exciting part is there are a lot of students really fired up and pushing it.”