University focuses on compost efforts to try and reduce waste

Lauren Florence

The University intends to divert 90 percent of its waste materials away from landfills by 2020, but its current percentage of materials diverted from landfills hovers around 35 to 40 percent, according to University waste program coordinators.

Jennifer Hobson, UT’s Zero Waste program coordinator, said the University tries to reduce its waste mainly by composting, recycling and reusing materials. The University has recently focused on its composting efforts by adding a compost program to the Union, according to Hunter Mangrum, Division of Housing & Food Service environmental specialist.

Currently, the compost at the University is collected under separate waste management contracts. The compost can be purchased back by the University after it’s been processed, but most of the compost ends up being commercially sold, Mangrum said.

“Over 300 tons of compostable material are provided by DHFS each week, all of which is processed in a matter of months,” Mangrum said.

Shelly Bergel, environmental science senior and compost manager for the UT Microfarm, said the student-run farm has its own composting system and takes compostables from places such as Micah 6 food pantry’s leftover produce. Bergel said the farm also uses DHFS coffee and tea grounds.

The Microfarm’s compost is used to fertilize its produce, so the farm can stay self-sustainable rather than purchasing compost, Bergel said. She said the farm doesn’t accept any animal products, grains, oils or grease, diseased plants, weeds or compostable plates and utensils in its composting pile, even though they are all compostable materials.

“Since [our compost] is not an industrial pile, and also because we provide some of our produce to DHFS, we need to follow certain guidelines about what to not include in our compost piles,” Bergel said.

The City of Austin has a similar “zero waste” objective to divert 90 percent of all waste materials to composting, recycling or reusing by 2040, according to Emlea Chanslor, public information officer and marketing manager for Austin Resource Recovery.

“Our next milestone is to achieve 50 percent diversion by the end of the year, which is a challenge since we’re currently at around 40 percent,” Chanslor said.

A compost-collecting pilot program which would help further the city’s zero waste goal is currently looking to expand, but it’s waiting for City Council’s approval and funding, Chanslor said.