U.Va. Dining Hall Food Waste to be Composted

November 05, 2008

November 7, 2008 — The University of Virginia has added the composting of food waste to its sustainability arsenal.

The waste from Observatory Hill Dining Hall — diner-discarded food, kitchen scraps and unusable leftovers — will be shipped in 30-gallon sealable plastic drums to Panorama Pay-Dirt in Earlysville to be composted. It is estimated that about 2.5 tons of "O-Hill's" food waste will be composted each week.

This is a student-driven effort, designed by third-year student Daniel Michaelson as a class project. He worked with Green Dining, a student advisory group for Dining Services; Facilities Management's recycling office, and U.Va.'s Office of Environmental Health and Safety to make the project a reality.

"The goal of the class was not to see it through to completion, but I did not want to just do it theoretically," said Michaelson, an engineer and environmental science dual major. "I am overjoyed with this."

The first load of food waste for composting will be shipped from Observatory Hill Dining Hall on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. U.Va. Dining will host a ceremony and Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va.'s executive vice president and chief operating officer, will offer a few words. Light refreshments will be served.

"This was truly a group effort," said Brent Beringer, director of U.Va. Dining. "We were honored to be involved. Composting food waste is a major upgrade for U.Va. Dining's sustainability program."

Beringer, who works for Aramark, the food service contractor for U.Va. and about 600 other colleges and universities nationwide, said he does not know of any other composting project within Aramark that is ambitious as U.Va.'s.

"I think we are in the vanguard here," he said.

"I'm happy to have composting on Grounds," said Bruce "Sonny" Beale, recycling program superintendent for Facilities Management. "This is our next step toward reducing the amount of material that goes into the landfill and it is giving back to the Earth."

"This will reduce the waste stream going to the landfill and turn it into something that will be beneficial," said Jeffrey Sitler, environmental compliance manager at the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. Jessica Wenger, environmental management systems coordinator for EHS, worked on the composting permit, which was issued in October.

"The process to get approval began back in March," Wenger said. "We worked closely with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Steve Murray of Panorama Pay-Dirt to figure out if there was a way to make composting a reality for us."

Following an extensive review, the state granted a conditional exemption to allow composting for educational purposes, based in part on the condition of the food waste, which is sent through a pulper to remove most of the water.
 
Currently, food waste from the dining halls is sent to a landfill, where the University pays a $59.64-per-ton tipping fee, plus hauling charges. With composting, Beale estimates the 34-yard trash compacting container could be emptied every other week instead of each week.

"Our hope is to eventually compost food waste from every dining hall," Beringer said. "O-Hill is just the first step."

— By Matt Kelly