Clemson Composting in a Nutshell

A Brief History

The Clemson University community is becoming increasingly concerned with sustainability. The President’s Commission on Sustainability has set a goal to make the University a model of affordable, fiscally responsible, environmental sustainability for public institutions of higher education. In compliance with this goal, Clemson Recycling Services decided to tackle the issue of food waste and to begin making efforts to divert such waste from landfills. In the summer of 2010, Recycling Services purchased a BW Organics in-vessel composter with assistance from a SCDHEC research grant.

Since the program was started, over 70,000 lbs of food waste have been collected and recycled as compost. Food waste was only collected from Harcombe Dining hall until recently. In February 2012 we began collecting from Schilletter and hope to begin collecting from the other dining halls in the near future.

Though largely successful, there have been many challenges to overcome with the new program. Since the start we’ve battled high moisture levels in the food waste, bad weather, mechanical issues, and more. There was a clear need to have more minds working on the project. In order to fulfill this need a creative inquiry class was established this semester. The CI has really been able to build momentum for the program and we are experiencing more and more success. In fact, this Thursday The South Carolina Botanical Gardens will be picking up the first truckloads of compost to be used on campus. This will mark an exciting milestone for the program.

The Process

The Clemson composting process begins at the dining hall, on your plate. Have you ever thought about what happens to your tray when you put it on the conveyor belt after you’re done eating? Once your tray makes it back into the kitchen, the organics (food, napkins, etc.) are separated and placed into a pulper. The waste is then blended and chopped into a consistency similar to that of grandma’s chicken salad. Pre-consumer waste is also collected in the kitchen. The food is then loaded into bins and placed outside where they are picked up daily.

Once the food has been transported to the composting facility, it is mixed with carbon inputs and loaded into the in-vessel composting system. After about a week, the now nearly finished compost is then emptied from the composter and stockpiled in the curing area. The curing compost is turned on a daily basis for just over a month. Once the compost is done curing it is ready to be used as a soil amendment. It’s possible that the newly enriched soil will be used to grow plants that could one day end up back on your plate.

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