The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many aspects of campus life that university students took for granted, and sustainability is no exception. In particular, the university’s composting program has had to realign itself since the fall to try to balance environmental and health concerns. While composting is still going on on campus, its scope has shrunk due to the pandemic.
Earlier this year, university restaurant provider Bon Appetit revised its waste management system to minimize the spread of COVID-19. As eco-host Gaelin Kingston explained in ’22, Bon Appetit made the decision to use disposable take-away items when it was still uncertain how likely they were to become infected by touching a contaminated surface.
“The pandemic has profoundly changed the nature of waste and waste disposal in Wesleyan, and this has affected both Bon Appetit and the sustainability department. ” Kingston said. “Essentially, her top priority was protecting students [and] Protect employees. ”
Bon Appetit worked with the university over the summer to find a solution that would keep the campus secure while minimizing plastic usage. The reintroduction of plastic to campus this year has left many students confused about which items are compostable or not. After the fall semester, the group that hired the university to collect the compost informed the university that composting of student-generated waste from Usdan would be suspended for the spring semester due to contamination from plastic materials.
“The contamination of our composting has increased because of things like [plastic] Cutlery and spices, ”Kingston said. “If the compost contains a sufficiently high percentage of non-compostable material, the freight forwarder will no longer be able to accept that compost as it will affect the profit margins they spend [more] Time to sort things out or throw them away. “
The carrier made this decision unilaterally, according to Michelle Myers-Brown, director of administration and operations for Usdan.
“As for composting, this was not a decision we were consulted about, “Myers-Brown wrote in an email to The Argus.” Bon Appetit has continued composting prior to consumption throughout the year as this is a decision that we could control. ”
This pre-consumer composting is known as “back-end” composting and takes in the unused food that has been thrown away during meal preparation. While Usdan’s green “front-end” composting bins, where students can dispose of their food waste after they eat, are out of order, composting is still happening in most of the campus locations, including the black bins in residential areas. However, making sure the students actually knew that composting was still possible was another matter.
“Everything is in the air and there is so much going on and it’s difficult to create a behavior change campaign.” said Kingston.
While Bon Appetit reportedly considered buying compostable cutlery instead of completely shutting down front-end composting at Usdan, they opted for plastic cutlery instead.
“The university could only provide compostable material,” said Kingston. “One problem with this is that the compostable cutlery costs a lot more. I think with COVID and so on, money was tighter. ”
Jen Kleindienst, director of sustainability at the university, echoed this sentiment.
“As far as I know, Bon Appetit is buying all composting materials this year for cost reasons, except for the cutlery sets,” wrote Kleindienst.
The Argus was unable to reach Bon Appetit for comment at the time of publication.
Despite these difficulties, the sustainability office worked hard to keep the university as environmentally friendly as possible while prioritizing the safety of students and workers. The Green Fund also bought reusable cutlery for students trying to combat plastic use on campus.
“We are continuing this advance now,” said Kingston. “However, we couldn’t measure exactly how effective this was in getting people to actually reuse it. We know we got our hands on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually using them. “
Sustainability bureau’s compost intern, Mia Sakamoto ’22, says the sustainability bureau has also tried to maintain environmental awareness on campus. But like all events on campus, COVID has made this difficult.
“We usually have more events related to composting and sustainability, like decorating compost lids or documentaries about food waste,” said Sakamoto. “We’re trying to do these interactions through Zoom, but it was very complicated.”
At the end of the school year, the sustainability office shifts its focus to the next school year.
“We were kind of on our backfoot [the] the majority of this pandemic, “she said. “It looks like we’ll be better off if we strive to hit the ground beneath our feet in the fall and make sure all of our compost is accepted.”
Hannah Docter-Loeb contributed to the coverage.
Kay Perkins can be reached at [email protected]