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Waste not

Diverted from the bin: Student-driven composting success

Student Life

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Fifteen thousand pounds of waste is a ton of garbage — to be precise, it’s almost seven tons.

Fortunately, a new waste management program through Aramark at the R. Gushue Dining Hall on the St. John’s campus has provided Memorial students the opportunity to divert this amount of waste since September from the landfill to a composting program.

“Aramark is committed to sustainable initiatives and we want to do our small part for the environment,” explained Stephanie Holt, residence dining hall manager.

In 2016 Aramark began a pre-consumer waste program that sends compostable material like vegetable peels from the kitchen to Memorial’s Botanical Garden.

“In September 2018, we began a post-consumer program where students discard leftovers from their plates into composting bins.”

Thumbs up

Student response to the program has been positive.

Students discarding waste.
Helen Daddow and Lauren Rees are residence student environmental representatives in their respective buildings in Paton College and actively participate in the composting program.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

In the beginning, there was a slight learning curve and adjustments were required to the setup to improve traffic flow. The process has been running smoothly since implementation and students say they appreciate that the initiative is benefiting the environment.

“Having a general environmental awareness is really important, especially when it comes to food waste,” said Lauren Rees, a residence student environmental representative in Bowater House, Paton College. “Media coverage is very focused on plastics and such, but the amount of food waste we produce is quite significant, so aiming to reduce that and recycling the packaging that comes with it is really important.”

On a regular weekday, the dining hall fulfills more than 1,600 student transactions for meals. With this capacity comes opportunity for significant, positive environmental impacts.

“We only have one planet.” — Helen Daddow

Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the amount of food waste going into the composter by reducing excess portions taken that are not eaten. Ms. Rees has noticed her fellow students’ behaviour changing since the beginning of the year.

“Portion management is much better than it was and you see people get one plate and then get another if they want more instead of having excess food waste,” she said.

Additional waste reduction initiatives at the dining hall include eliminating straws unless requested; use of reusable cutlery, glass and dishware; compostable napkins; and more.

Change for the future

For Helen Daddow, a residence student environmental representative in Squires House, Paton College, the focus needs to be on shifting attitudes and starting early.

“We only have one planet and at the moment we’re using up the planet too fast. If we manage it properly, we can prolong the planet’s resources,” she said. “We need realistic attitudes of what individuals and communities need to do, and getting that (attitude) at this early stage of life is important for short and long-term impact.”

Staff at the Dining Hall say they are interested in hearing students’ suggestions for future sustainable initiatives.

“Recently, residence students suggested moving from paper packets of sugar to sugar dispensers that use bulk sugar,” said Ms. Holt.  “This was a quick and easy solution that immediately reduced waste.”

If students, faculty, staff or the community have other ideas for sustainable initiatives outside of food services, you can contact Memorial’s Sustainability Office or visit online.

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