SGA expands composting with pilot program

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

In an effort to encourage more students at the University of Massachusetts to stop throwing away their compostable material, the Student Government Association’s Secretary of Sustainability, Ainsley Brosnan-Smith, launched a compost pilot program earlier this month to expand outdoor composting on campus.

The temporary program will test out six new compost containers in highly trafficked areas on campus. Brosnan-Smith, along with four others in the SGA, use bikes with attached trailers to sort through the bins and transport the compost to a compactor in the Campus Center, which is then taken to Martin’s Farm in Greenfield.

“I just kept taking pictures of all these trash cans overflowing with compostable containers, and I was like this doesn’t make sense,” said Brosnan-Smith, a junior with a dual major in natural resource conservation and sustainable food and farming.

Brosnan-Smith plans to present the program’s results to advisory committees on campus in an effort to either receive funding for what would become a student business or for the program to be incorporated with waste management.

The bins are located outside of W.E.B. Du Bois Library, outside of Thompson Hall, outside of the Whitmore Administration Building, in front of the Student Union entrance, on the west side of the Student Union facing the pond and between the Integrative Learning Center and Blue Wall.

“Why throw away these compostable materials? Why are we investing more of our money in something that’s just getting thrown away?” said Brosnan-Smith.

According to the UMass website, the University composts over 1,400 tons of food waste each year in the dining commons and cafes, making composting the largest recycling stream on campus. Earlier this month, UMass was ranked 41st on the Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges.

However, Brosnan-Smith doesn’t believe that students on campus are embracing sustainability enough. “We’re just throwing away money to say that our campus is sustainable but we’re not actually practicing it.”

Still, Brosnan-Smith believes that thus far the program is working well and is optimistic about its future. “I was like I know this is something I could improve, and it’s been working and I’ve kind of done it. It’s not permanent yet but it seems on the way to permanence, which is great.”

When compostable materials are thrown in the trash they are transported to a landfill where they decompose and release methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that can trap up to 25 times more radiation in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stefan Geller can be reached at stefangeller@umass.edu or on Twitter @StefanGeller.

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