By Dino Vivanco
The Environmental Protection Agency states that food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of our landfill waste. This is all waste that can be avoided and repurposed through composting. Looking to drive down those statistics, the University of Chicago Law School’s Green Lounge has recently lived up to its name, both literally and figuratively, with the addition of two new green bins, thanks to efforts on the part of the Law School’s Environmental Law Society (ELS). I had the pleasure to sit down with former EAF member and current ELS Co-President Leah Garner and learn all about this new initiative.
The idea to start a composting initiative began as ELS looked for ways to expand upon the University of Chicago’s Sustainability Plan. Discussions about composting had begun the year prior and this year’s ELS board decided to make it a reality through the development of a three-phase initiative: Education, Implementation, and Evaluation. The educational phase began last quarter but continues to be a pillar in their efforts to increase composting on campus. Educating the public on what is compostable is not a simple task, and Leah herself admitted that at times it can be challenging for her to discern what is compostable and what is not. To help combat this issue, ELS has placed a large emphasis on instructional signage along with other creative solutions aimed at educating the public, such as developing a trash sorting game in which students try to correctly sort trash for a chance to win a prize.
On January 24th the green bins were rolled out as phase two kicked into action adding the Law School to a short list of established composting partners at UChicago, which also includes the University of Chicago Lab School and UChicago Hillel. All three have decided to partner with Healthy Soil Compost, a vendor that collects food waste, composts it at its facility, and distributes the fertilized soil to their clients based on the amount of composting they collect. Leah stated that UChicago Law hopes to donate the soil to a nearby community garden. Healthy Soil Compost supplies the necessary equipment and handles all the pickups and swaps. This structure made it very easy for ELS to address the concerns set forth by the administration early on, which Leah acknowledged as being the most challenging part about getting the initiative up and running. Alongside finding a great vendor, ELS created a proposal detailing a variety of action plans in the event that the smell, visual appeal, or signage of the composting initiative did not meet the expectations set forth by the university. Two weeks in, they have yet to have a problem, but feel more than prepared to tackle on any issues that may arise.
As the project continues, efforts are being made to increase engagement and integrate composting into the Law School’s culture. Leah stated, “With constant student turnover, we hope that administration will institutionalize this project so that it can continue on in the future.” Currently, most of the effort put into running the operation is being handled by current ELS members, but they would like it to become a regular part of facilities upkeep. The third phase of their project will reflect on how to streamline the process so that composting is able to operate as an asset of UChicago Facilities, with long term goals of introducing it to other schools within the university.
We at EAF are excited about this new initiative and invite you to check it out and take part in reducing waste on campus. We remind you that composting is one of many ways in which students, faculty, and community members can reduce waste. Making a conscious efforts to reduce the amount of food waste created could go just as far in creating a more sustainable society.
Dino is a third year in the College majoring in Molecular Engineering and Chemistry.