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"Compost Happens" at the cafeteria

By Taylor Dickinson
On February 27, 2012

Another green initiative project is taking place at Sonoma State this year, this time in the form of decomposed organic matter--and it's happening in your backyard. That is, if you live near the Zinfandel Dining Hall.

"Compost Happens" is a pilot project that takes compostable items at the Dining Hall and sorts them before sending them to the Carneros Ranch in Petaluma to be used as compost or fertilizer.

This initiative is part of the campus' growing commitment to practicing sustainability. If the pilot program is successful, composting will expand to all dining venues on campus.

"I honestly am not expecting anything but smiling faces as I hear from students saying ‘This feels good to compost, to give back what we often take for granted,'" said Diedre Tubb, an environmental studies and planning major with a focus on outdoor leadership, in an e-mail interview.

Tubb is the sustainability ambassador for the compost pilot project, with an emphasis on waste diversion of compostable and recyclables.

The idea of this project came up as part of Tubb's research topic for ENSP Environmental Research and Writing course for fall of 2011. "Compost Happens" is a tag line that Tubb thought would be best suited to market to Sonoma State students, faculty, campus directors and off-campus representatives.

Tubb said that while she was doing research of other campuses that utilize compost in their waste management operations, the tag line seemed promising to engage awareness and action.

"The scraps are taken to a composting facility off campus, but I am hoping that in the future we can make it so that compost happens right here on our campus to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping it," said Stephanie Parreira, sustainability senator for Associated Students.

This form of pilot project is somewhat unique, according to Tubb. There are several composting methods available for commercialized food waste management at other universities, but SSU is amongst the few involved in comprehensive commercial compost pilot project.

This means the food scrap waste at Zinfandel Dining Hall will be outhauled three times a week by North Bay Corporation as they take it to a local ranch that has a contract with Sonoma Vermicompost according to Tubb. Meat, cornstarch to-go containers, biodegradable utensils and other unique products will be accepted in this green compost two-yard container out in the loading dock at Zinfandel.

"Compost Happens" has created other opportunities for developing composting projects on campus. Another project is being developed for the Residential Community of Sonoma State, so on-campus students can learn how to properly compost and contribute to sustainability on campus.

As a test program to see if composting will work in the residential community, there is a trial run going on for participating residents of the sustainability Co-op in Marsanne in Sauvignon. Residents of the Co-op who would like to participate will undergo training to learn what they can put in the compost dumpster.

The dumpster will be located next to the other trash and recycling dumpsters. Residents that undergo the training will be given a code to a lock on the special dumpster to insure that there is a little contamination as possible.

According to Sarah Minett, the sustainability co-op peer mentor, Co-op is a living-learning program located in the Sauvignon community, designed to foster within each resident a sense of pride, investment and a desire to contribute positively within their living environment.

The objective of the Sustainability Co-op is to help educate students on environmental issues, as well as how they can lead sustainable lives through a variety of programs and monthly meetings.

"The residents have been interested in composting since the beginning of the year, and we have been trying to figure out a way to make this possible in the residential community," said Minett via e-mail. "Now that the dining hall has began composting, we have been able to work them to create a pilot program for the residential community."

The ultimate goal is to expand the composting program to the entire residential community. The ability to expand will be based on the success of the pilot program. The main concern is the risk of contamination that occupancies composting, which is the reasoning behind starting this on a smaller scale, said Minett.

The goal is the same as the Compost Happens pilot project. If all goes well with the trial run, composting will be taken to all campus dining venues as a permanent commitment to sustainability.

"My job is to make my visions of how to get the student body population that has a high turnover rate to be interested, aware and excited about Sonoma State's sustainable efforts to divert compostable food scrap waste," said Tubb. "By getting involved with such efforts, the end turn to this whole project is to replenish California's native topsoil and sustain a practice which is a natural part of nature's recycling program." 

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