U.Va. Composting Project Receives Silver Medal from Governor

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Matt Kelly:

May 6, 2010 — The University of Virginia's student-initiated food composting program has received a silver medal in the 2010 Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards.

The awards recognize the significant contributions of environmental and conservation leaders in three categories: environmental projects, environmental programs and land conservation. They are given to businesses and industrial facilities, government agencies and individuals.

The University and students partnered with Aramark, the food service company that operates U.Va.'s dining facilities, to remove about 2½ tons of food waste from the Observatory Hill Dining Hall per week. The waste food is pulped and brought to an Earlysville farm, where it is composted.

"The composting program is a true measurement of how well the University and its contractors work together to find solutions to make living on Grounds an incredible experience," said Jess Wenger, environmental programs manager. "There were a lot of cogs in the wheel that had to move in the same direction to make composting work, let alone to make it award-winning."

The program started in November 2008 and the resulting compost has been sold locally as a fertilizer and soil amendment. U.Va. Recycling hauls the food waste to the farm and students monitor the compost temperatures and its progress.

"We've reduced Observatory Hill's trash service by half," said Bruce "Sonny" Beale, recycling superintendent for the University. "We were picking up six to 10 tons of garbage a week. Now we are getting six to eight tons every two weeks."

After the success of the Observatory Hill composting, the University is now expanding the program into other dining halls.

"This award demonstrates our commitment and dedication to remaining a sustainable leader on Grounds," Brent Beringer, director of dining services, said.

The program was designed by environmental science and engineering science major Dan Michaelson, who credits fellow student Cara Magoon with the original idea. Michaelson expanded on the concept in engineering professor Paxton Marshall's "Designing a Sustainable Future" class.

Michaelson did not want the idea to die when the class ended and worked with the recycling office to implement the project.

— By Matt Kelly