Bin or Bust: Compost Challenges at UWB

Written by: Noelle Rittenhouse, Taylor Lemerand, Sienna Knox, and Anthony Brugalette

Composting at the University of Washington Bothell is a process that allows students and staff to get involved in the school goals of sustainability and a healthier planet, but the composting process on campus may not be as good as the administration makes it out to be.

Is University of Washington Bothell organic waste actually being composted, or is it being sent away with the other trash? Through interviews, research and by following the composting process from start to finish, reporters from the Husky Herald have found that students and staff could be causing cross-contamination in the composting system at the university, despite the university’s work in providing compost bins along with recycling and garbage bins.  

Compostable waste either stays on campus or is hauled away to Cedar Grove’s industrial composting facilities. According to our sources in campus grounds keeping, a group primarily responsible for the upkeep and holistic care of the campus vegetation and compost on campus, custodians collect the garbage, recycling and compost from all the buildings on campus, but Husky Hall stopped providing compost bins due to large amounts of garbage contamination. Because the compost is not sorted before it is picked up, industrial facilities like Cedar Grove must reject it.

On campus, resources for composting are also being pushed to their limit. The majority of compost collected on campus in the form of weeds and plants is collected by Groundskeepers during cleanup of the grounds, and is put into large compost boxes with red wiggler worms, which are emptied out about 6 times per year. Groundskeeper, Joel Ferreiro states that “at some points in time we generate so many weeds that we fill those bins, so we’ve been dumping our weeds in other places and making these giant mounds of compost above ground, and we’re letting that slowly break down.” 

In addition to yard waste, Ferreiro and the UWB groundskeeping team take some subway scraps and the cafes’ coffee grounds to the boxes-a clearly incremental yet significant improvement over simply throwing them away as they had done in the past.  

 The University of Washington Bothell 21st Century Campus Initiative, a document which was instituted to drive development on campus from 2008-2020 in areas such as growth, student-centered community, and diversity says one of our school’s goals is to “develop environmental and human sustainability as a signature initiative” which is important to the University of Washington Bothell community because they aim to reduce their carbon footprint and create opportunities for education in sustainability, but as we await the results of an internal audit evaluating the sustainability of our food packaging at campus cafes, it is still unclear if our practices do enough to support the eco-friendly values of the students. 

The facilities compost is where the main composting shortcomings are present. Because the custodial staff simply collects and dumps the compost bins from campus buildings, how well the compost is sorted is ultimately up to students and staff to properly take care of. 

“Climate change is here and is affecting lives throughout the world, and I want to do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint,” says pro-composting UWB student, Braiden Ward. 

In comparison to those values, a student whom would like to remain anonymous stated, “I don’t compost because I don’t care, and don’t feel like the school cares enough to make sure all of the compost ends up in the right place. It all goes to the same place as the trash anyways, right?” Sustainability minded reporters are left wondering, do students care enough to reflect the 21st Century Initiative statement to “value the development of sustainable and healthy community practices”, or does it just give the appearance of sustainability? 

There are signs on the composting bins presenting what can and can’t be composted, but a lack of knowledge is still preventing students and faculty from properly composting. Much of the compost in the facilities is put into the garbage instead. 

As for the campus farm, composting is used in their sustainable farming practices. The grounds team provides the farm with the campus vermicomposting bin and yard waste hot compost. 

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