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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

New Composting Project at ESF

Turning Food and Organic Waste into a Useful Product

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The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) Green Campus Initiative student group has instituted a new composting project to collect and compost food and organic waste on the Syracuse campus.

The new composting program at ESF is the culmination of nearly five months of planning, research, construction, and collaboration among students, staff, faculty, administration, and others. The GCI students decided early last semester that ESF needed to overhaul its organic waste management practices; the group decided to tackle the issue.

"Composting has been attempted several times on campus and has never been a lasting success," said Justin Heavey, a junior in the environmental studies program and a member of the Green Campus Initiative. He explained, "The urban setting of ESF, and the variable loads and types of organic waste streams present some unique challenges, but we have done our best to recognize and address these issues."

ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr., said, "I am extremely impressed with the way the students tackled this issue. They did their homework, put together a viable plan, involved as many people as possible, and found a solution that's practical, comprehensive and forward looking."

After a campus lecture by Peter Moon of "02 Compost" and Greg Gelewski of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, GCI decided to use a process known as static aerated composting. Static means the compost pile does not have to be turned to facilitate the process; instead it is injected with air that will produce grade A compost free of weed seeds and pathogens in as little as three weeks.

Onondaga County uses the static aerated composting system to compost more than 9,000 tons of organic material every year. Based on this unique method and blueprints donated by Moon, an insulated, aerated "micro-bin" has been constructed.

The intention is for the system to serve as a pilot program, demonstration, and research project. Members of GCI will be responsible for collecting organic waste from the Marshall Hall Gallery snack bar and snack areas around campus, as well as the Illick Hall rooftop greenhouses.

Collection bins will be available in the Bray Hall, Moon Library, and Baker Lab snack areas, where students and faculty can throw their banana peels, coffee grinds, and other food scraps.

Sawdust generated by the college Woodsmen's Team and leaves collected from the campus grounds will be used as a source of carbon rich material in the compost.

The air-injection equipment used is simple and projected to cost less than $10 per year to operate.

If the micro-bins work as projected, the possibility exists to expand the project to an unclosed aerated system capable of processing hundreds or even thousands of cubic yards per year. The result would be very large organic "resource" streams diverted away from landfills and incinerators, and toward productive, holistic, and eco-friendly uses.

Two traditional vessel composters will complement and balance the aerated system. The intended end use of the finished compost will be to support community gardens and sustainable landscape projects on campus and in the local community.

Aerated composting is a simple but highly effective example of environmental science in action that will make the ESF campus greener and more sustainable. The program will also provide hands-on learning for students that they can take home to their local communities and easily replicate and share with others.