Composting contamination by students can lead to more than $1500 in fines for the University

Bonny Chu

From recycling to composting, there are many ways students can help the environment. However, the impact of sorting waste is only economically friendly when it’s done properly.

Specifically for composting, if there is a 5 percent or more contamination rate in the loads collected around campus, all of it gets rejected and goes to the landfill, said Neil Kaufman, the sustainability coordinator of University Housing and Dining.

In the last academic year, there was a peak in rejected composting, Kaufman said. While the campus collects about 300 tons of composting each year, 73 tons were rejected between mid-November of last year to mid-March. 

He said this is largely because students improperly sort their food scraps at the dining halls and place inappropriate material such as metal forks in the composting bins. 

“I think a lot of this is just kind of by accident or they’re just naive about how composting works,” Kaufman said. “This is hard work. We don’t want these loads to go to waste.”

If the load is contaminated by under five percent, the University is charged with a $75 fee by their composting company, Organics by Gosh. However, if the load is rejected with a contamination rate of 5 or more percent, they are charged anywhere between an extra $500-1500. This is because the loads need to be redirected, transported and dumped into the landfills instead. 

Urban studies senior Cory Simmons worm composts at home, where the earthworms convert organic waste into soil fertilizer. He said students should be more aware of the environmental impacts they have.

“It’s the responsibility of holding people accountable,” Simmons said. “And then also making sure we ourselves are doing the right thing, too.” 

Marketing senior Tristine Lam, who helped establish campus composting sites with BEEVO Beekeeping Society, said students have little reason not to compost. 

“You would be surprised how much easier it is to compost,” Lam said. “It just takes a little bit of research, and if you have the freezer space to store your organic waste until you can compost it on campus, then do it.”  

Kaufman said while students might think their individual efforts don’t matter, composting correctly can greatly impact UT’s ability to have a sustainable waste program. 

“Sorting trash is currently the least interesting thing that you could possibly have to concern yourself about,” Kaufman said. “However, it’s incredibly important because it’s part of our civic duty.”