The Clemson University community is becoming increasingly concerned with sustainability. The President’s Commission on Sustainability has set a goal to make the University a model of affordable, fiscally responsible, environmental sustainability for public institutions of higher education.
As a reflection of this University goal, Clemson Recycling Services decided to tackle the issue of food waste and to begin making efforts to divert it from landfills. In the summer of 2010, Recycling Services purchased a BW Organics in-vessel composter with assistance from a SCDHEC research grant.
Though largely successful, there have been many challenges. Since the start we’ve battled high moisture levels in the food waste, bad weather, mechanical issues, and more. There was a clear need to have more minds working on the project.
In order to fulfill this need, a creative inquiry class was established in 2011. The CI has been able to build momentum for the program, and we are experiencing more and more success. The South Carolina Botanical Gardens and Student Organic Farm utilize our compost by the truckloads.
Since the program was started, over 100,000 lbs of food waste have been collected and recycled as compost. Food waste at first was only collected from Harcombe Dining hall. In February 2012 we began collecting from Schilletter and hope to begin collecting from the other dining halls in the near future.
The Clemson composting process begins at the dining hall, on your plate. Have you ever thought about what happens to your tray when you put it on the conveyor belt after you’re done eating?
Once your tray makes it back into the kitchen, the organics (food, napkins, etc.) are separated and placed into a pulper. The waste is then blended and chopped into the desired consistency. Pre-consumer waste is also collected in the kitchen. The food is then loaded into bins and placed outside where it's picked up daily.
Once the food has been transported to the composting facility, it is mixed with carbon inputs and loaded into the in-vessel composting system. After about a week, the compost is then emptied from the composter and stockpiled in the curing area. The curing compost is turned on a daily basis for just over a month. Once the compost is done curing, it is ready to be used as a soil amendment. It’s possible that the newly enriched soil will be used to grow plants that could one day end up back on your plate.