Food composting returns to campus

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Matt McGee

On October 29th, members of the EBIO 204 Community Gardens class, the Rice Urban Agriculture Club, and the Rice Student Volunteer Program (RSVP) initiated Rice’s Campus Compost Project by piling a variety of organic materials in a row - called a windrow - that they intend to turn into compost. Composting is a process of recycling organic materials such as food waste or leaves into soil. Compost requires three main ingredients: “browns” such as leaves or wood chips to provide carbon, “greens” such as food waste or grass clippings to provide nitrogen, and water to aid in the breakdown of organic matter. Environmental benefits of composting include diverting materials from landfills, reducing methane emissions, and creating high-quality soil.

Located at the corner of Stadium Road and Rice Blvd, the compost site already offers plenty of wood chips and dried leaves for carbon-rich browns, and has a water source nearby. The nitrogen-rich greens for the compost were sourced from pre-serving vegetables and fruit trimmings from four of the serveries, as well as coffee grounds from Rice Coffeehouse. The students received assistance from Housing and Dining as well as Facilities Engineering and Planning to obtain the necessary materials, and to find a place to make the compost.

The project marks the return of student-led food composting to Rice. Students operated an on-site composting vessel called the Earth Tub between 1999-2007, collecting food waste from various campus kitchens and dining halls to create compost. Initially launched at Jones College, the Earth Tub was moved to Sid Richardson College in 2003. The Earth Tub was decommissioned in 2007 due to mechanical failures.

According to Joe Novak, professor of Rice’s Community Gardens class, the compost windrow is decomposing nicely, and has reached internal temperatures of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this rate, the material will be fully decomposed by the start of the spring semester, and is intended to be used by groundskeepers for campus landscaping and by students for the community gardens. In addition to providing organic fertilizer and diverting waste, participants in the Campus Compost Project are interested in expanding their efforts to include more groups (like Eco Reps, Rice Environmental Club, Real Food Revolution, etc.) as part of a broader movement to bring sustainable agriculture to Rice.