Let’s #CUcompost

Only 50 years ago, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote “the battle to feed all of humanity is over,” in a book titled The Population Bomb. He predicted that millions would starve within a decade despite any emergency program. The Green Revolution proved him wrong with cross-breeding to develop high-yield and disease-resistant wheat—the world population doubled within 40 to 50 years and production per acre quadrupled.

Now, another food security crisis looms. According to the UN, we waste one third of the food we produce, while 0.8 billion people are undernourished. The UN states it would cost $30 billion to address the world’s food crisis, while food waste losses in industrialized countries alone cost $680 billion. Food waste in industrialized countries occurs mainly at the consumer level. This one is in our hands!

Photo by Kim Gagnon
Photo by Kim Gagnon

Beyond reducing food waste, diversion is also critical. Landfills are a leading methane emitter. Simply put, reducing and diverting waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically—composting transforms organics into soil.

At Concordia, 43 per cent of waste (255 tonnes) is compostable. Yet, we compost 67 tonnes, and send 188 tonnes to landfills, according to the 2013-2014 Concordia waste audit. We should do better.

The challenge is multi-faceted. Compost bins are rare at Concordia, compostable waste is sent to an out-of-province composting facility, and, ultimately, this social issue requires a culture change.

While Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) at Concordia insists that using closer facilities may not significantly reduce emissions, they also recognize the need for on-site composting. We should strive for a closed, self-sufficient food cycle where we use our own compost to grow our food.

Any on-campus awareness campaign should include two goals: firstly, ensure that compostable waste goes to compost bins, and secondly, minimize the contamination of compost bins with non-compostables. Contamination produces poor quality soil, which is an ongoing problem for Concordia’s City Farm School and Greenhouse, who use compost to grow food on campus.

Last year, Concordia Council on Student Life (CCSL) funded a collaboration called Waste Not, Want Not with a $35,000, two-year grant. The collaboration includes students (Graduate Individualized Student Association), faculty (Loyola Sustainability Research Center) and administration (EH&S). It has three synergistic pillars: more widespread compost bins, a better composting model and an educational campaign.

CCSL funding is to pay only for education, while Concordia’s vice president of services, Roger Coté, stressed his commitment to infrastructure investments. The Sustainable Action Fund (SAF) supported the Waste Not, Want Not campaign with another $1,000.

So far, so good—the number of public compost bins on campus have doubled. Almost all student and university orientation events include compost, and an intensive social media campaign has been launched. 1,500 people engaged per day in a five-day food festival, catered by our very own Hive Café Co-op, to learn how to compost on campus.

More than 62 students, 47 staff and 20 professors signed up to volunteer. Student volunteers, who will be recognized by Concordia’s Co-Curricular Record (CCR), informed the university community about the new compost bins. Staff volunteers, including security, have compost desk signs. Professor volunteers gave class presentations. Concordia’s Creative Reuse Center provided our artistic volunteers with art supplies diverted from landfills to make signs. Concordia’s community is engaged, committed and invested. Like a campfire, though, this spark of community engagement must be maintained with concrete actions.

Concordia is a 50,000-member community, the size of a small town. Much of what we do can be like adding a drop to a bucket of water. To change the culture, that drop must be like ink, changing the colour of the water. Compost must be made present in our minds consistently and persistently.

This year, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) adopted a sustainability policy aiming to reduce and compost food waste. The graduate community must remain vigilant to implement that policy. Concordia Student Union (CSU) already has a sustainability policy, and a campus-wide policy is in the works. Other associations should follow.

All events taking place in the university where food is served should automatically be provided with compost bins as part of the space booking process. Events organized by student associations, faculties, gradpro skills, institutes, research centres and Alumni Relations should be zero waste. While the establishment of policy remains necessary, staff champions who organize those events can make a real and positive difference.

Photo by Kim Gagnon
Photo by Kim Gagnon

There are still less than 30 public compost bins. Expansions in public areas and staff kitchenettes are planned but have yet to materialize. Implementing on-site composting remains uncertain, as the Loyola composter remains inoperable. Further infrastructure investments with clear timelines are necessary.

Such infrastructure investments are not unheard of fairy tales for universities. The University of Sherbrooke diverts about 80 per cent of its waste away from landfills, ensures that all common areas, kitchens and lounges are equipped with compost bins, and operates its own composter with a 70 tonnes annual capacity, according to their website. Concordia diverts about 60 per cent of its waste. A total of 363 tonnes of waste from Concordia go to landfills, 188 tonnes of which is compostable—more than 50 per cent—according to Concordia’s 2013-2014 waste audit. Compost should be priority one!

While Concordia’s new strategic directions do not explicitly include sustainability, a separate “outline” integrating it within the new directions was composed by the sustainability governance framework—university committees on sustainability. We must act with a sense of urgency to live up to the sustainability expectations of both Concordia and international communities.

In the meantime, buy only what you need, finish your meals and throw your leftover food and contaminated paper in the compost bins with orange lids! A community consultation hosted by Concordia’s Facilities Management is scheduled for Dec. 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in GM 1060-01 to discuss future Concordia investments in on-site composting.

For more information, visit concordia.ca/compost. Whether you are a student, faculty or staff member, join us and share pictures of your sustainable events on our Facebook and Twitter (@CUcompost).

– PhD student Keroles Riad and Professor Peter Stoett

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