October 5, 2021

Year one of growth — and decomposition — for Wayne State University’s compost program

A whopping 6,253 pounds of kitchen food scraps were collected from campus and sent to the farm throughout the first year of operations.

Last month marked one year since Wayne State University’s Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) kicked off the university’s first-ever large-scale compost program. The initiative seeks to improve access to waste reduction opportunities, reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions and cultivate community connections.

“The continuous growth can be credited to each program partner doing their part to create mutually beneficial relationships, much like the microorganisms that work to decompose our campus food waste into nutrient-rich soil,” said Grace Maves, Wayne State student and intern with the Office of Campus Sustainability.

Food waste collection started at Towers Café and expanded to other campus dining locations including Starbucks, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Tenders, Love and Chicken, and WSU’s catering. Aramark plans to include all dining locations in the program. To help OCS support this goal, the company implemented a weekly Jeans Day, which permits employees to wear jeans on Fridays if they donate $1 to the program.

The Office of Campus Sustainability also formed a unique partnership with Fourteen East Café, located in the Mike Ilitch School of Business — a Sustainability Education Series published bi-weekly to help drive traffic to the coffee shop and educate the community on timely environmental issues.

Another beneficial relationship was crafted between Wayne State’s Grounds Services team, which collects campus yard waste such as leaves and twigs. This is then delivered to Georgia Street Urban Farm on Detroit’s east side instead of disposing in dumpsters. Not only does this help Grounds Services offset disposal costs, it also supplies Georgia Street with materials essential to the composting process.

The Compost Warriors picked up food waste from participating restaurants and delivered it to Georgia Street Urban Farm, where the compost processing occurred with the support of FoodPLUS Detroit.

But who was responsible for collecting and transporting the whopping 6,253 pounds of kitchen food scraps from campus to the farm throughout the first year of operations?

This important role was fulfilled by a dedicated team of Compost Warriors out of OCS. The Compost Warriors picked up food waste from participating restaurants and delivered it to Georgia Street, where the compost processing occurred with the support of FoodPLUS Detroit, a nonprofit led by Executive Director Renee V. Wallace, who works on far-reaching innovative food system projects.

“The Compost Warriors have always done what I asked to create a smooth process. It’s important because when they do what they need to do, it makes it easy for me to do the work I need to do,” said Mark Covington, executive director of Georgia Street Community Collective and operator of Georgia Street Urban Farm.

The partnership between Wayne State and the two community organizations goes beyond food waste delivery and processing. The three also host co-curricular learning events such as tours, volunteer days and resource hubs to build and support the farm and campus communities.

Daryl Pierson, Office of Campus Sustainability’s chief sustainability officer, next to new publicly accessible Waste Stations located in the STEM Innovation Learning Center.  

Over the past two months, the trio has been awarded two $10,000 MICROS Grants from EGLE’s NextCycle Michigan Initiative and awarded entry into the FLOWS (Food, Liquids, and Organic Waste Systems) Innovation Challenge Track, which could result in further stakeholder investment following a project pitch competition.

New to the campus are publicly accessible Waste Stations located in the STEM Innovation Learning Center. With these bins also come revamped compost and recycling signage that is funded by another EGLE Grant recently awarded to the Office of Campus Sustainability, which supports nearly $120,000 worth of waste reduction infrastructure for the university.

“Wayne State has been working with both of these organizations for several years now and the strength of our partnership shows in the progress we’ve made,” said Daryl Pierson, OCS’s chief sustainability officer. “We are really excited about the future.”

Stay tuned to find out where additional publicly accessible campus compost bins will be placed in the near future. You can learn more about what can go in public compost bins at sustainability.wayne.edu. Also, learn more about how you can reduce your home waste by visiting one of the Waste Recovery Stations at every home football tailgate and game.

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