Happy first week of classes to the Princeton community!
In celebration of the start of the ’23-24 academic year, we look back at the summer happenings at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab:
After a taking a break from mid-May through June, the S.C.R.A.P. Lab was back in operation on a limited schedule after July 4th through the end of August. We processed on average a half of a ton per week (about half of what we process during the busier academic semesters).
The rest of the time was focused on research and course planning tied to our DEP compostables testing grant. The next phase of our grant studying bioplastic composting will happen this fall in conjunction with FRS 115: Decomposing the Science of Composting: How To Turn Waste into Resource. In preparation, we met with Prof. Zhang and her lab team to test out the sampling protocol for the class:
We also had a tour with the US Composting Council and engaged a group of first-year students for a work day.
For our final post of ICAW, we share updates on our DEP grant project to study and test innovate new methods for using, collecting, and recycling compostable plastic products.
As part of our assessment on how well several types of compostable plastic products break down in our composting systems (SCRAPPY followed by piles or windrows), we first need to better understand our post-consumer retail waste stream. Our goals are to:
streamline and cut down on the number of single-use serviceware items (The fewer kinds of serviceware, the easier it is to encourage proper recycling)
pick better product alternatives that are certified compostable (preferably PFAS free too) so we can test them in our systems
So our first step in this journey was to conduct a waste audit of everything consumers were putting in trash and recycling at retail dining. We selected the largest venue – Frist Gallery – and one of the smaller cafes on campus as representative locations. Over the course of two days in mid-April, our Campus Dining and Sanitation staff helped us collect and transport the waste materials so they could be audited by our contractor, MSW Consultants.
While we are still waiting for the full audit results, we share some details and preliminary findings in the photo essay below (trigger warning for anyone who doesn’t want to see the food waste):
Overall we captured a lot of waste – 250 lbs alone of organics (wasted food & molded fiber compostable serviceware that we know composts well) went to SCRAPPY directly after the sort across both days.
Now we will be able to better understand our waste composition and how we can divert as much as possible toward recycling/composting over the next few months when we revamp the waste sorting area in Frist over the summer and fall. Stay tuned for more progress updates!
For today’s ICAW post we are pleased to share a Q&A about home composting with Tania Althoff who is a Project Manager in the Office of Capital Projects at the University.
Read more about Tania’s journey to composting, her process, and advice to those looking to start:
Why were you interested in starting to compost?
I like to make plant-based meals and salads with different fruits and vegetables, and I realized how much food waste I was throwing in the trash. I wanted to “recycle” these food scraps to make something useful for my garden and yard. Also, I joined an organic community garden this year and this opportunity became a great motivator for starting my own system!
Tell us about your composting system
I have a dual chamber tumbler that sits outside. I turn it occasionally to aerate it and add water to keep it moist. Also, I use a metal bin to collect scraps in the kitchen. I’ve been collecting all plant scraps like pepper stems, potato peels, broccoli or kale stalks, etc. and also egg shells, coffee grounds, newspaper, and leaves. Having just started the system recently, it’s still “brewing” so I don’t have usable compost just yet. It’s a slow process but I’m hopeful I’ll have compost for use later in the growing season!
Any advice for others looking to start composting at home?
Just do your research! There’s so much information out there about how to get started composting at any scale, as well as the different types of home composting options available. Make sure to learn about the balance of nitrogen and carbon that’s required for any system. Good luck!
During the pandemic, SCRAPPY was relocated from Princeton to West Windsor Township. This March, we held a “relaunch” ribbon cutting ceremony to formally (re)-introduce the West Windsor and greater Princeton University community to our food scraps demonstration composting project. A photo essay of the event is below.
All photos courtesy of Jared Flesher, Communications Specialist with the Office of Sustainability
Following the facility tour, we also raffled off a home composting system. Sarah Williams of the Molecular Biology Department was the lucky winner and the ComPOSTer will follow-up with her to hear about her experience with it.
To learn more about home composting options, visit our Resources page and stay tuned for tomorrow’s post for a home composting Q&A with Facilities staff member, Tania Althoff.
Our first commemorative post highlights project updates from March and April.
During this time we….
Reached a big milestone of processing 100 tons of uneaten, non-recoverable food (for the 2 years that scrappy has been operational, not counting offline time during the pandemic)
Expanded our team by creating new roles to enable more event and bin pick-ups.
Sabrina Fields ‘GS joined the team as a Graduate Compost Coordinator, assisting with food scraps collection efforts in academic departments. Prior to coming to Princeton, Sabrina was at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, where she helped coordinate an effort to reinstitute compost in the Keller Center building as students returned to in-person learning. Being her first experience with composting outside of a residential composting program, she learned a lot about how important the education and behavioral aspects of larger-scale composting programs are.
Victoria Koretsky ’26 joined the team as a Compost Concierge Driver. Victoria drives around campus in our minivan and picks-up smaller buckets and bags of pizza boxes from a few centralized locations on campus, helping to free up time for our operational team
We also welcomed three new student team members to the operational crew. Check out their full profiles here
OPERATIONAL UPDATES – MARCH & APRIL
As the weather warmed and we entered the busy part of the spring semester without any pauses in operations, our monthly totals have jumped to the highest they have been since the pandemic.
With Sabrina’s and Victoria’s help, we were able to capture a greater amount of food scraps from non-dining venues by beginning new partnerships with the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, the Real Food Co-op, as well as working with our student Eco-Rep team to collect compostables at various events across campus.
We estimate that we recovered and composted over 150 gal of food scraps and 200 pizza boxes from events over the last two months.
The total amount of material composted at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab in March
The total amount of material composted at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab in April
Stay tuned for another post tomorrow recapping our re-launch ribbon-cutting ceremony
Next week, May 7 – 13, is International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW)!
ICAW is the largest and most comprehensive education initiative of the compost industry. It is celebrated nationwide and in other countries each year during the first full week of May. The goal of ICAW is to work together to raise public awareness on why we all should be composting our organics recycling and using compost.
This year’s theme is For Healthier Soil, Healthier Food…Compost! The theme was chosen based on a serious world-wide issue that every nation, unfortunately, experiences: hunger.
One of the initiatives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), is Zero Hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
The chosen 2023 theme best reflects the goal of focusing on how compost can have a role in helping feed the world, by making our soil healthier which produces healthier food.
How does compost help?
By recycling organics into compost and using it on our farmlands we create healthy soils that produce healthier food and higher yields. It also reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticides, improves water quality and conserves water, as well as stores carbon in soil – helping to reduce climate change. Compost not only helps the environment but also helps to decrease food shortages experienced around the world. For Healthier Soil, Healthier Food…Compost!Source & learn more
With Earth Month just wrapping up and in honor of ICAW, the ComPOSTer will post several times during the week. Stay tuned for the following content:
2023 has been off to a great start, beginning with our annual “Black Gold” Behind the Scenes Composting tour of the S.C.R.A.P. Lab for Princeton’s Wintersession.
A diverse group of 15 students, staff, and faculty joined the tour, including an Economics professor, grad students, undergrads, and staff from Facilities to Occupational Health – showing how composting is an activity in which everyone of all backgrounds can engage. It was great to hear that about 1/5 of the group has been composting at home in their backyards which helped foster rich conversation.
Over the course of the 90-min tour, we talked about optimal ways to home compost; composting recipes such as the difference between “greens”/Nitrogen and “browns”/Carbon; compost’s climate impacts; and Gina led a demonstration of the lifter and compost viewing.
Check out some of the sights below:
As winter break extended through January, SCRAPPY remained in “auto-digest” mode with compost having a bit longer time to mature inside of the vessel and then we had our first full month of operations once the semester started
The total amount of material composted at the S.C.R.A.P. Lab in February
Committing to reduce methane emissions from the solid waste and wastewater sector by at least 15% by 2030 from 2020 levels and deepen collaboration on waste and agriculture methane measurement and mitigation, including achieving the Global Methane Pledge through trilateral cooperation on methane and black carbon emissions.
Developing a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Action Plan by the end of 2025 outlining efforts to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030.
After a 2+ year hiatus, we were happy to restart composting operations during the Fall 2022 semester, restarting our partnerships with Coffee Club and retail dining. We added a van to our arsenal to enable more food scraps pick-ups, diverted compostable materials from two large events, and altogether composted 5 tons worth of material in 2022.
New efforts and/or repeat activities that we didn’t quite get to in 2022:
Hosting a Wintersession Tour to raise awareness of campus composting among the campus community
Holding a re-launch ribbon-cutting ceremony with the greater Princeton community
On-boarding an assistant operational manager
Executing on our DEP grant to study improved ways to collect and recycle compostable serviceware, while engaging first year students in a new seminar called Decomposing the Science of Composting
Launching new graphics and informational signage for the new facility
Continuing to raise awareness about the environmental justice implications of composting when applicable
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an exciting year for composting!
As the month and year come to a close, the ComPOSTer takes a look back to the first of the month when the team diverted organics and compostables at theOrange & Black Ball.
While ~2,000 undergrads came to Dillon Gym to listen and dance to music, eat food, and play games, EcoReps and volunteers helped students properly sort all leftover food, plates, and napkins into our “compost” bins, while only plastic cups* were sent to the landfill.
There was no need for utensils since only finger food was served.