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Cycle of life

Composting program keeping waste from going to waste

special feature: Environment

Part of a special series showcasing faculty, staff and students’ commitment to placing the environment at the forefront of  research, public engagement and teaching and learning activities at Memorial.

By Mandy Cook

Did you know that an audit conducted a couple of years ago determined that organic waste accounted for 70 per cent of the waste produced at the Main Dining Hall?

Not anymore.

Garden to garden

A truckload of nutrient-rich compost from Memorial’s pilot composting program for the dining hall was recently delivered to the community garden behind Queen’s College.

Between February and May of last year, food service workers at the Main Dining Hall diverted more than 2,300 kilograms of fruit and vegetable scraps to six 40-litre containers.

Twice a week, members of Grounds and General Services, Facilities Management, collected the containers and transported them to the Botanical Garden on Mount Scio Road.

Mary Martin, food service worker at the Main Dining Hall, assists with the composting program.
Mary Martin, food service worker at the Main Dining Hall, assists with the composting program.
Photo: Chris Hammond

There, they were emptied into a three-compartment, concrete composting platform, where the scraps began the process of decomposition.

Global issue

“Prior to this, none of the food waste was being composted,” said Tim Walsh, nursery manager, Memorial University Botanical Garden. “This program is improving the university’s waste management and is helping to fulfill Memorial’s core value of sustainability.”

In Canada, $31 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composters each year, according to a 2014 report from Value Chain Management International. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1.3 billion tons of food globally gets thrown out each year.


The program is also a response to a demand.

“A lot of students who are studying at Memorial who come from communities across Canada ask if we are composting,” said Toby Rowe, co-ordinator, Sustainability Office, Facilities Management.

From left, Toby Rowe and Tim Walsh shovel compost at the community garden.
From left, Toby Rowe and Tim Walsh shovel compost at the community garden.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Fitting, then, that the first load of compost was delivered to the garden. About 50 of the 130 members of the community garden are students.

And now, thanks to the collaboration between the Botanical Garden, Facilities Management and Aramark, Memorial’s food provider, gardeners have the extra advantage of a free supply of organic fertilizer to produce fresh food.

“We usually purchase compost, so this load represents a savings of about $400-$500,” said Ms. Rowe.

Next steps

While the first load was produced from food waste collected between February-May 2015, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and more have been continued to be collected from the dining hall. In fact, Facilities Management has increased its pickups from two times to three times a week.

“Hopefully, if this develops into a larger project, we’d love to take all scraps,” said Mr. Walsh. “Right now we can’t take meat or cheese or things like that, but there are composting methods to handle those things.”

The pilot project was funded through the Harris Centre – MMSB Waste Management Applied Research Fund.

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