Yay, Earth! Michigan Dining Recycling/Composting hits 100 percent

Keith Soster
Release Date: 


The University of Michigan’s MDining halls, Michigan Catering events and Michigan-led retail outlets now provide bins and resources for sustainable composting and recycling at 100 percent of its locations.

We offer our students and campus community the ability to compost all food waste, compostable paper and plant-based products, as well as recycle the products they use, at dining locations around campus. Directions, bins, and fast facts also are provided to make it become a simple, easy habit.

The benefits are endless … Composting and recycling greatly reduces the impact that we have on our environment as well as conserves landfill space.

According to Frank Turchan, MDining’s executive chef, “Nothing goes to waste in the MDining kitchens with every piece of pre-consumer waste, such as carrot tops, onion skins, potato peelings, composted at the Ann Arbor Compost Center.”

The Center is operated by WeCare Organics where it is turned into compost, mulch and topsoil. MDining also recycles post-consumer waste by processing it in a pulper to extract the water from the food. This process reduces the volume of food waste making it possible to transport it to the Compost Center.

“Even Blue to Go packaging and cups, food trays, napkins, stir sticks and paper products  are recyclable or compostable,” Turchan says. “And our cooking oil is picked up and recycled into other useable products including biodiesel fuel and animal feed.”

MDining staff and Planet Blue Student Leader volunteers  held a Composting Awareness Week mid-fall semester to build recognition for the practice.

One of the organizers, Matthew Finnigan, wanted to build on what he knew since becoming aware of composting. Finnigan says when he  heard about composting he assumed it was a messy process, involving leftover food, dirt and worms. The University of Michigan student (graduating in 2019) says it was only after getting involved with the Planet Blue Student Leaders (PBSL) program, and learning more about composting on U-M’s campus, that he discovered composting was simple, easy and, usually, sans worms.

“When I first became involved in recycling and composting, I was someone who needed to learn about the process and why it is important,” Finnigan says. “Now I am in the position to raise awareness among my fellow students. To me it is so important to do what we can to protect our environment and that includes reusing, recycling and composting.”

Finnigan explains that while most people associate composting with food scraps, it extends to almost all materials. “We can compost plates, bowls, spoons … you name it.”

These efforts are paying off. In 2016, staff, students and guests to the University of Michigan produced 582 tons of compostable waste. If this waste were not composted, it would be an extra 430 tons of waste sent to landfills.

Currently, U-M’s MDining is diverting 29.2 percent of landfill waste to compost, with a goal of 40 percent by 2025. U-M faces unique challenges in meeting this goal as the campus continues to grow.

The result, according to Composting 101, is less waste in landfill, less methane emitted from the landfills, and soil that holds water better, is more nutritious, and needs less pesticides.

For more information on composting or recycling on the U-M campus, please visit http://dining.umich.edu/about-us/sustainability/.

Keith Soster is the Director of Student Engagement for MDining. At the core of Keith’s work is outreach, putting him in constant contact with  students, suppliers and campus stakeholders with a focus on advancing initiatives for a greener, healthier campus. He is responsible for student and community connections both on and off campus, and serves as the sustainability lead for Student Life.