Composting promises sweet smell of success

09 December 2016
Horwood and Cook
Jason Horwood (Sous Chef O’Rorke) and Tony Cook (Head Chef University Hall) discuss results of the commercial kitchen composting trial

Composting could deliver a step change in the University’s efforts to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill, according to results from a recent trial.

Over the past 10 years the University has brought in a number of initiatives to divert solid waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. These include providing recycling bins for bottles, cans and paper, rolling out an office recycling programme to almost all faculties and service divisions, and promoting the use of reusable cups and containers.

Recovery of recyclables has since tripled, which has driven down the amount of waste to landfill. Food waste, which last year made up 59 per cent by weight of general rubbish, has now been identified as key to achieving further reductions.

It is estimated the University could reduce its waste to landfill by nearly a third by weight and 70 per cent by volume if it comprehensively tackles food scraps, coffee grinds, paper towels and tissues, and if food outlets switch to wooden utensils and readily available compostable packaging.

The University has been trialling options for processing food waste onsite for a number of years. Some departments have small-scale compost systems and a few groups maintain worm farms. Unfortunately, the University doesn’t have the capacity to deal with all food waste onsite. So it is now piloting a service that enables a portion to be composted offsite.

Over the past couple of months, a trial has been carried out in the commercial kitchens of O’Rorke, Whitaker and University Halls and the Flame Tree Quad Café in the City Campus. This has seen collaboration between a number of parties, including Facilities Management, Campus Life, Flame Tree managers, chefs and kitchen staff, hall managers and residents, Kalista (a University waste collection provider), sub-contractor We Compost and composting company Envirofert.

Tony Cook, Head Chef at University Hall, says the trial was a “painless” way for his team to contribute to sustainability. “For us, it simply meant swapping one type of bin for another. We have an additional bin next to each chef’s station and compostable material goes into that. This is checked regularly to make sure nothing goes in there that shouldn’t. Students also got on board pretty quickly with the new way of doing things.”

Project administrator Maria Baldoni agrees. She says the trial has been a “highly positive, motivating experience. All people involved have been amazing, supportive and caring. We have managed to successfully separate the food waste which, as simple as it may seem, is one of the most challenging aspects of composting. We can only compost food waste that has been correctly separated. Achieving this on the first attempt is great.”

During the first six weeks of the trial 16 tonnes of food waste were diverted from landfill. This represents 55.5% by weight of the waste generated at the three halls of residence and 22.4% of the waste of all trial sites combined. Separation was good, complying with the composting company’s specifications.

Costs were lower than forecast and responses from participants were positive. Property Services Director Peter Fehl says he is very encouraged by this preliminary trial which has significantly reduced waste to landfill in the target sites.

“As a result, I am recommending that the University extends the trial for a further twelve months in order to confirm the promising results to date with a view to a longer term commitment to the process.”