Composting in a college dorm? U-M expands residential composting

Susan Thwing
Release Date: 

Bobby Brewer

With the success of a 12-week pilot program giving students in residence halls the opportunity to make a big impact in waste reduction, the University of Michigan has expanded its in-house composting program to five of its residential halls this fall. In 2017, a first-of-its kind pilot composting project was created by student leaders from Planet Blue, the university’s organizational structure for its Sustainability Initiative, and Michigan Housing.

“Studies on our campus have indicated that 35-40 percent of our total trash is compostable material, so implementing a comprehensive composting program across campus could have a significant impact on our overall waste, and our ability to reach our sustainability goal for waste reduction,” explains Keith Soster, Director of Student Engagement and Sustainability.

Here’s how the project works: Each participating student is offered a compost bucket for his or her room and detailed instructions on what is compostable. A larger bin is located in the hall’s utility room in which the smaller buckets can be emptied or students can take compostable items directly to the bin.

“Students are enthusiastic about helping the environment. Some students have composted at home before coming to the University of Michigan and were excited to be able to continue composting,” says Soster. “We have also heard nothing but good things from the facilities, and are looking forward to furthering our mission to meet U-M Sustainability goals.”

The university currently composts in all of its dining centers and retail outlets, but the Planet Blue pilot is a unique opportunity for students living to reduce their waste further by composting in their own living spaces, organizers say.

“The most direct and impactful way to reduce food waste on campus comes from the efforts already underway in MDining (pre and post-consumer composting in the residential dining halls), however even buildings without a food service generate a large amount of compostable waste,” Soster explains. “Educating staff and students on what is compostable from their offices or rooms starts to build both knowledge and a culture around composting on campus.”

Living sustainably is an important part of being a Wolverine, as the university has engaged in mission and goals for sustainability into 2025. Multiple units and individuals are working to collaborate, lead, organize, and manage the U-M Sustainability Initiative and its related programs and activities. Among those goals are to invest in sustainability culture programs to educate the internal community, track behavior, and report on progress over time. The university also plans to reduce waste tonnage diverted to disposal facilities by 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2025.