Post-Consumer Food Composting Pilot in Michigan League

Dana Budzaj Elger, Public Affairs
Release Date: 

Students, faculty and staff dining in the Michigan League can skip the trashcans and choose to compost food waste as part of a pilot program exploring post-consumer food composting on campus.

Led by the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office, the pilot program measures the level of post-consumer composting occurring in several restaurants including: Beansters, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and University Catering. The program began at the start of fall semester and ends November 21.

“We are exploring post-consumer composting for a number of reasons,” said Tracy Artley, sustainability program coordinator with Plant Building and Grounds Services. “Most importantly the pilot is in response to student inquiry to see if it’s feasible on our campus, to determine the challenges we would face in rolling out campus-wide as well the true financial costs.” 

Post-consumer composting involves collecting leftover food after it has reached the consumer. Offering campus the opportunity to compost leftovers is another effort supporting the university’s goal to reduce waste diverted to landfill by 40 percent. While the pilot marks the first time post-consumer food composting has been implemented institutionally on campus, the university has participated in pre-consumer composting since 1998 and has collected nearly 870 tons of waste.  

As part of the pilot, restaurant customers will see compost bins with signage noting acceptable items located in the areas of each participating restaurant, though University Catering staff is responsible for sorting collected food waste into the proper bins from events. Compostable items include any food leftovers plus non-food items, including: napkins, toothpicks, tea bags made from a paper material with no staples, wooden coffee stirrers and compostable cutlery.

Collected compost is picked by U-M Waste Management Services crews and taken to the city of Ann Arbor’s composting site, operated by WeCare Organics, a New York based residual waste management company. The university is tracking the volume of post-consumer composting in conjunction with pre-consumer composting.

“We need to collect "real data" to determine the feasibility of post-consumer composting,” said Robert Yecke, director of the Michigan League. “The League is a great location to collect that data as we have a variety of food areas within the facility.”

Commenting on the progress so far Yecke added that employees have embraced the pilot, but there’s still a great deal of confusion among costumers as to what is trash, recyclables and compostable, indicating it will take time to educate people about proper sorting. 

The pilot is a result of recommendations from a 2010 study to explore the feasibility for an on-campus, post-consumer food waste composting program, as well as student recommendations from the ENVRON 391: Sustainability and the Campus course.