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Compost collection makes a comeback at PSU
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: March 4, 2014

Wondering what to do with that banana peel or apple core? Well, you’re in luck: PSU has taken steps to institutionalize and increase collection of food scraps, making composting more accessible for campus departments. Late last summer, a new custodial contract went into effect that includes collection service for compost from departmental common areas, such as break rooms or kitchens. Compost bins in these areas will be emptied three times per week. Prior to this change, departments interested in composting were required to service bins themselves.

Why compost? 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps make up approximately 28 percent of the garbage thrown away and sent to a landfill or incinerator nationally. At PSU, a 2013 campus-wide audit of waste indicated that 36 percent of our garbage could have been composted. When food scraps and food-soiled paper go to a landfill, their decomposition produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Additionally, food scraps are heavy and contribute to high disposal costs for the University when sent to landfill—compost collection fees are much lower than trash disposal fees.

“The change in the custodial contract has really opened the door for an expansion of composting on campus,”  said Tony Hair, PSU’s waste management coordinator. “We can now provide PSU departments with a user-friendly composting service that saves money, ensures valuable nutrients are being returned back to the earth, and moves us closer to reaching the University’s climate action goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” 

What’s accepted in the compost bin? 

Any and all food scraps, including meat, bones, dairy, grains, coffee grounds, fruits and vegetables, as well as food-soiled papers such as napkins, paper towels, pizza boxes, coffee filters, and tea bags. 

After food waste is collected on campus, PSU’s waste hauler brings it to the Metro Transfer station, where it is then trucked to a facility called JC-Biomethane in Junction City, Oregon. JC-Biomethane utilizes anaerobic digestion of the food scraps to produce both a solid compost product and liquid fertilizer. In addition, the methane released during anaerobic digestion is used to generate energy.

How can my department get started with composting? 

Over time, compost bins and information signs will be delivered to all departmental common areas. If your department would like to begin compost collection now, please contact the Campus Sustainability Office at recycles@pdx.edu or 725-4300. 

Another change resulting from the new custodial contract is the elimination of desk-side trash and recycling collection. Employees may still use a desk-side bin for their convenience, but custodial service is now limited to central collection areas within the office. A standard practice in many Portland workplaces, this shift to centralized collection increases recycling and composting by ensuring that employees encounter all available options for waste disposal in one location. 

Recycling raw materials saves energy, lowers carbon emissions, and conserves valuable natural resources. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that recycling and composting efforts in 2011 reduced the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 580,000 average passenger cars, which amounts to 4 percent of Oregon’s total emissions. 

PSU’s current recycling rate is 25 percent and the compost rate is 9 percent. 

“There is no question that we have a lot of room for improvements regarding recycling and composting at PSU. However, with both the expansion of departmental composting and more centralized waste collection, we are taking steps in the right direction to truly making PSU a more sustainable place,” said Hair.

Thank you for supporting waste reduction and diversion at Portland State!