Channing Wang / Drescher

By Sumin Yoon 8/31/21 11:06 PM

When Grace Kwan, a freshman at Sid Richardson College, first walked into Servery, she was pleasantly surprised by the numerous palm leaf plates.

“I noticed that the plates weren’t normal paper plates, they looked like wood,” said Kwan.

The palm leaf plates – which juniors and seniors may recognize, since they were used in the server rooms before the pandemic – and the compostable gloves and utensils mark a sharp transition to the black plastic to-go bins and non-compostable utensils of the previous school year.

These changes are part of Housing and Dining’s new post-consumer composting program for waste generated by servers. Gloves, utensils, plates, and any other items marked as compostable are provided to make composting as convenient as possible for students, said Ashley Fitzpatrick, president of the Rice Environmental Society and intern at Rice’s sustainability office.

“The goal is for someone to get their plate and just toss it straight into the compost at the end of their meal and not have to worry about anything,” said Fitzpatrick, a senior at Martel College. “Everything you take out on the server will be compostable, with the exception of these small portion packs.”

After a pilot at Martel and Sid Richardson last spring, the post-consumer composting program was expanded to include all residential colleges. According to an August 25 email from Fitzpatrick and College EcoReps to the student body, students can now compost in their rooms after reading the teaching materials provided and passing a quiz that tests the ability to classify materials as either compostable or non-compostable to categorize. compostable.

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“Students this year [can] participate in post-consumer composting, which means that not only can they compost excess food on their plate in the common areas, but, like last year, they can also apply for a quiz to get individual compost bins in their dorms too “Helen Tian, ​​a sophomore sid student and eco-rep, said. “Personally, I’m very excited about expanding dorm composting to all colleges, not just Sid and Martel, because this program offers so much potential and room for growth.”

Brad Thacker, North Colleges’ H&D operations manager, said post-consumption composting is optional to prevent contamination and encourage proper composting. This helps ensure that those who choose to compost do so in a mindful manner.

“We decided not to put compost bins everywhere because it is an opt-in program,” said Thacker. “We want it to be comfortable, but not too comfortable. [The option] reduces the risk of [those who choose not to compost] contaminate the efforts of those who want to participate. “

Wiess College Junior and Co-Chair of the Student Union Environment Committee Madeleine Cluck said three videos on recycling, composting and sustainability were part of new student enrollment modules on Canvas. Cluck and Fitzpatrick are working with campus eco-representatives to educate the student body about what can be composted at Rice. According to Thacker, this campus-wide training is important in order to prevent the compost from being contaminated by non-compostable material.

“[The contamination rate] must be less than 1 percent, ”said Thacker. “If [it] begins to rise and we give up contaminated compost, our compost partners will cut us off. “

Fitzpatrick said the newly implemented post-consumer composting will complement the existing pre-consumer composting for all Rice server kitchens.

“Pre-consumer [composting] is much easier to control because it’s only in the kitchen and you don’t have that much variety, ”said Fitzpatrick. “[Post-consumer composting] was much more difficult to implement [amid past COVID-19 policies] because we didn’t have people eating in the College Commons and there wasn’t a central place where people actually dumped their trash. Even if we had set up a composting facility [in college commons last school year], most people’s food would probably still end up in the bins inside or outside their rooms. “

Moonshot, a local composting company, delivers the food waste in the compost bins at Rice to nearby composting facilities. According to Moonshot co-founders Chris Wood and Joe Villa, the composted food waste can be used in a variety of ways in crop production and flood control.

“When we collect both pre- and post-consumer waste from Rice, we take it straight to a composting facility where it is mixed with other vegetative materials such as garden clippings and tree cuttings to form nutrient-rich compost,” Wood and wrote Villa in an email to the thresher.

The nutrient-rich compost can then be transported to various community gardens in the Houston area, such as Rice’s holistic garden, where it supports plant production, according to Wood.

“It’s this nice closed loop system where the nutrients from the food waste don’t go to the landfill, but make great compost, and that compost is returned to community gardens where healthier products can grow,” said Wood.

Fitzpatrick says troubleshooting and improving the post-consumer composting program at all colleges in response to student feedback will be a focus for the coming weeks.

“The past week and the next few weeks is all about identifying and mitigating problems that arise,” said Fitzpatrick. “In response to student feedback over the past week, we’re going to be improving the signage, changing the arrangement of the bins in the wash-up rooms, and moving to a system where students scrape food off their plates and then place the palm leaf plates and bowls next to them Stack the bins to make them better. “Manage the amount of waste.”

Thacker says it will take people some time to be trained in post-consumer composting and he doesn’t have any real data on the program at Rice yet.

“The bins for the compost are in the dining rooms of each college,” said Thacker. “Because the food has been moved outside, folks [were] don’t use these sockets, however [they were] Instead, use the container that is closest to the food, be it in the room, in the hallway or in the quad. “

Kwan said that more attention should be paid to the new composting program.

“I think right now most people don’t know that almost anything on the server is compostable,” said Kwan. “I only heard from word of mouth that there was compost right next to the two normal rubbish bins. So far I’ve only composted the plates and the food, but thrown away the cup and cutlery. “

Soleste Starr, a junior at Martel, said a wider public would be helpful for the program.

“The only improvement that I would like to stress is the advertising,” Starr said. “I think more people need to know about the system and what they are throwing away and what they are not.”

As Rice introduces post-consumer composting, Wood and Villa look forward to the coming semesters.

“Since Rice began the program, Rice students have taken part in diverting over 60,000 pounds of food – all with composting before the consumer,” said Wood. “With more students on campus and the introduction of post-consumer composting, we expect that number to increase dramatically.”