University Health Services boosts sustainability with composting initiative

Catherine Marfin

In order to promote sustainability on campus, University Health Services composts 400 pounds of solid waste each month from its healthcare facilities.

The clinic’s composting system, which was piloted in the spring but began officially this fall, diverts 15 pounds of solid waste each day. Composted materials include alcohol pads, gauze, sanitary wipes, wooden tongue depressors, wooden Q-tips, paper towels and exam table paper.

“University Health Services is just one of over 105 sustainability programs on campus,” Karen Blaney, program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said. “College campuses are one of the best places to come up with solutions to global issues since we are educating citizens at the same time as innovating through research.”

Prior to the composting initiative, the clinical areas of University Health Services had no recycling or composting bins. The new composting initiative has diverted almost all of the clinic’s waste from the trash bins into the recycling and composting bins, according to Kathy Mosteller, director of nursing services.

“Eventually, we want composting to become a regular part of routine trash pickups, instead of having our students and faculty responsible for transporting the compost each day,” Mosteller said. “The students and faculty here at the clinics are excited about the initiative, and have even been coming up with additional ways to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Student volunteers such as Lovesimrjit Sandhu, biology senior and sustainability coordinator for University Health Services, takes the composted materials to the Division of Housing and Food Services each night where it is then transferred to a composting site.

“I love it when the staff comes to me with ideas about improving composting because this shows they really care,” Sandhu said. “It feels really good to know I’m working to reduce our negative impacts on the environment.”

University Health Services is one site on campus that has initiated composting as part of the Green Fee which was enacted on campus in 2010. While the Green Fee is currently in the last year of its five-year cycle, University Health Services said this will not affect its current composting system.

“Many of the students and staff here have even begun practicing sustainability in their own homes as a result of our initiatives,” Mosteller said. “The idea of this composting is to take steps now that will allow us to change our habits and help Austin, as a community, achieve sustainability.”