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'Getting your hands dirty': How UNC students are composting on campus

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Carolina Dining Services offers compost collection in multiple locations across campus including Alpine Bagel Cafe. Compostable materials include food waste, table scraps, soiled paper products, and compostable packaging.

At first glance, composting may seem tricky on a college campus.

But, students at UNC can dispose of their scraps in a variety of ways, including turning them into something meaningful at the University.

“It's great stuff," Claire Lorch, Carolina Community Garden’s program manager, said. "We call it — the finished compost — we call it black gold."

The community garden, which is located on Wilson Street off of West Cameron Avenue, accepts and composts food scraps collected by community members. According to the garden's website, these scraps can include fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, egg shells, coffee grounds and other natural items. 

The "black gold" is then used to fertilize the garden, and the produce is given to on-campus employees who tend to make lower wagesalmost every week

"We just recently had our 14th birthday, and we've given away over 32 tons of food," Lorch said. "We attribute a lot of our success to compost — the beautiful compost."

The residence halls also have sustainability officers who organize events aiming to promote greener living on campus. One of these events included a composting day, in which students on different floors competed to collect the most compost.

Carolina Dining Services has compost collection centers across campus, including central locations such as Chase and Lenoir Dining Halls and Alpine Bagel Cafe. 

Some days, students who act as CDS Green Guides are stationed near composting bins to help ensure compost is properly sorted.

“When the Green Guides program goes on, the contamination in all of the bins goes down significantly,” UNC senior and Green Guide volunteer Tatum Pryor said.

Sara Vandersip, a former CDS sustainability intern, said when students compost their food items in the dining halls, their waste is collected by the organization CompostNow, which takes the compostable material to an offsite industrial processing facility.  

CDS also performs annual waste audits in an effort to better understand how to reduce contamination using compost and recycling bins as well as to work through what the most common falsely sorted items are, Vandersip said.

Vandersip is also the co-director of CompostMates at Carolina, a food-scrap pickup service for UNC students who live off campus. The scraps are collected every other week on Saturdays and Sundays, and the waste is then donated to local community gardens, including Edible Campus, Carolina Community Garden and Giving Garden, to be composted.

Edible Campus is another University organization that collects and generates compost with the help of student volunteers. They offer workdays for students to come and try their hand at gardening and composting. 

Even with these resources, some students have called for composting outlets to be expanded. Pryor said even if students use the compost bins provided by their dorms, it is unlikely that they will carry the scraps from their room or around campus to be composted. She hopes that eventually, more bins will be available to students and a sustainability briefing will be provided for new students at orientation. 

Ella Feathers, the co-director of the environmental affairs department of the Undergraduate Executive Branch, said she would like to see an increase of composting resources on campus. Still, she acknowledged the funding challenges of making such an initiative possible, especially at a public university. 

“I think it can be difficult to toe the line between wanting to do something really ambitious and then also respecting the intentions and the efforts of people in administration already working on these issues,” Feathers said.

For now, students can continue to bring their scraps to the preexisting campus locations or donate their waste to organizations like Carolina Community Garden, CompostMates and Edible Campus. 

“Getting your hands dirty is a really good start,” Pryor said.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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