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Fort Lewis College takes step to lower greenhouse emissions

All food waste from main dining hall now composted
Kateri Gachupin, a student at Fort Lewis College, and Marty Pool, assistant director of the Environmental Center, hold compost from the “Rocket” in-vessel composter. All the food waste at FLC’s San Juan Dining Room in the Student Union Building can now be composted – the “Rocket” can handle about half the waste and the other half is now picked up for composting by Table to Farm Compost of Durango.

Efforts to compost food waste at Fort Lewis College have taken a big step forward this year with the school now able to compost all food waste from its main dining hall in the Student Union, up from about 50% composted a year ago.

Marty Pool, assistant director of FLC’s Environmental Center, said reducing food waste is a key part of achieving the college’s sustainability and climate commitments.

“Reducing organic waste is one of the most important areas for waste reduction, particularly in terms of climate impacts,” he said.

Timothy Pearce with Fort Lewis College makes a sandwich for an FLC student at the deli on Friday in the San Juan Dining Hall in the Student Union.
Compost from the “Rocket” in-vessel composter used at Fort Lewis College.

Historically, solid waste, including food waste, has been responsible for between 5% and 10% of the college’s greenhouse gas footprint. Food waste is of particular concern because when the organic material goes to a landfill it breaks down to create methane, which is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the short term.

The San Juan Dining Hall, the main dining center in the Student Union, is by far the largest contributor to food waste, and composting is an effective approach for curbing methane emissions from food waste.

“First, you want to minimize the amount of waste you have, and we encourage students to take only the amount of food they’re going to eat,” Pool said.

“But you’re always going to have some leftover waste, and that leftover waste, if it goes into the landfill, this type of fresh organic matter breaks down into methane, which is way more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term,” he said.

Composting produces much less methane and carbon dioxide compared with landfilling, and in the end, the compost builds soil, which helps plants, and that serves to encourage carbon sequestration because plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

An internal composting system had been able to handle about 50% of food waste at the San Juan Dining Hall at Fort Lewis College. Now, the college is contracting with Table to Farm Compost of Durango to compost the other half.
After the food waste is collected in the San Juan Dining Hall in the Student Union, it goes through this machine, which removes water before the waste is sent to the “Rocket” in-vessel composting machine.
About half the food waste collected in the San Juan Dining Hall in the Fort Lewis College Student Union is now sent to Table to Farm Compost.

FLC uses an in-vessel composting machine called the “Rocket,” which has been able to handle about 50% of the food waste from the San Juan Dining Hall.

A donation to the school’s sustainability fund by Dick and Gay Grossman has allowed the college to contract with Table to Farm Compost, a compost pickup service in Durango to compost the other half of the food waste from the dining hall that was beyond the capacity of the Rocket to handle.

“The machine had been at maximum capacity, and so our efforts every year were to reduce food waste from the start, and that will still continue, too,” Pool said.

Use of Table to Farm Compost opens up more possibilities to expand composting on campus.

Pool said the Environmental Center is looking at adding pilot projects to begin collecting food waste from the residence halls and other parts of campus for composting with Table to Farm next year.

“We’re really excited because this is the first step,” he said. “This is focused specifically on the food waste coming out of campus dining. But the next step, we want to provide compost collections throughout campus to capture food waste or compostable waste outside of the dining hall, because our internal system was at maximum capacity, we haven’t been able to take the next step forward.”


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