Composting System Could Return To Residence Halls With Student Support
Penn State Housing has removed composting receptacles from all residence halls on campus, citing high contamination rates in the compost bags that prevented them from being sent to a composting facility off campus.
“It’s not an inexpensive program for us to administer,” assistant housing coordinator David Manos said. He explained that the compostable bags the division uses must be changed on a daily basis, regardless of the amount of material collected.
“It’s very expensive to pull anything out of the compost that isn’t supposed to be there, and given the low collection rates and high contamination rates, it just wasn’t worth it,” Manos added.
Housing pulled recycling from several residence halls at the beginning of the semester as a pilot program for the larger removal, and expected to hear some sort of feedback. They didn’t receive any.
“Even when we pulled it in all of the residence halls, we’ve still only gotten minimal feedback,” Manos said. “It confirmed what we didn’t want to confirm: Composting in particular was not that important to students, that they didn’t perceive it as a value. There might be an educational gap, and trying to fill that gap has been very difficult.”
To bring composting back, the housing division must register a notable change in students’ recycling behavior, according to student Eco Reps Idalys Bonet and Jon Altland.
“We need to create a foundation of students who will support composting and have housing see that the culture is there and composting is worth bringing back,” Bonet said.
Eco Reps, a student group “committed to creating a culture of sustainability at Penn State,” hope to promote their efforts by increasing their presence at move-in weekend. In the past, their presence made a difference by encouraging freshmen to practice sustainability and environmental stewardship, according to Altland and Bonet.
“We want to set new norms for freshmen that come in so proper sustainability can be second nature,” Altland said. “Trying to change a behavior is much harder than setting a new norm.”
Manos says the housing division currently has no timeline for bringing composting back, but is hopeful for the future.
“It’s not a done deal forever, we’re just stepping back at this point, putting it on hiatus, until we can possibly work with the Sustainability Institute and develop a program where we can do a better job at educating, not just for composting but for sustainability and recycling in general,” Manos said.
Manos believes there’s a need for a university-wide marketing program that stresses the importance of sustainability and proper recycling behaviors.
“That way, when we have programs like Eco Reps, whose purpose is pure engagement and education, go out to engage and educate, they’ll be supporting a broader, more high-profile message,” Manos said.
Manos hopes his division will succeed at developing a culture of composting on campus, which he believes is one of the most valuable programs at Penn State.
“It has a real value, it goes right back into the community,” Manos said. “You walk around and see flowers blooming in the spring, a lot of that is due to the very rich compost that’s produced by the Office of the Physical Plant. It’s a very valuable commodity.”
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