New composting initiatives turn Danforth Campus food waste into fertilizer

WUSTL Dining Services, Office of Sustainability work to keep material out of landfills

Toss your used napkin and food scraps into a campus compost bin, and 4-6 months later, your trash might be feeding the tulips in front of Brookings Hall.

With the help of the WUSTL community, WUSTL Dining Services and the Office of Sustainability are working to turn more of the Danforth Campus’ food scraps and trash into fertilizer through composting.

Diners in the Bear’s Den can scrape compostable waste off their plates and into compost bins. (Credit: Whitney Curtis)

Composting is the process during which organic waste materials decay and form a rich soil, which then can be used for farming or landscaping.

Items collected at WUSTL to be composted include food waste, paper napkins, cardboard pizza boxes, tea bags, sugar packets, compostable plastic items, wood stir sticks, chopsticks and more.

This waste, if not composted, would otherwise end up in landfills, says Phil Valko, director of sustainability.

“Composting is nature’s time-honored approach to waste management,” Valko says. “It is elegant in its simplicity, saves energy, reduces landfill size and produces a nutrient-rich, life-giving product.”

The university works with St. Louis Composting, which takes WUSTL organic waste to its facility in Belleville, Ill., to be composted. WUSTL then buys back compost from St. Louis Composting and uses it in the campus landscaping.

WUSTL Dining Services composted about 97,000 pounds of food waste last year through its pre- and post-consumer collections, says Jill Duncan, dining services marketing director. From August 2010 through March of 2012, Duncan says, WUSTL Dining Services composted 160,000 pounds of waste.

WUSTL Dining Services collects compost materials both pre- and post-consumer. As the dining staff prepares food (pre-consumer), they dispose of food waste into compost buckets in the kitchens.

Post-consumer collection depends on the dining venue. In the Bear’s Den, students can scrape compostable waste off their plates and into bins before placing them on the dish return. At the Danforth University Center, dining services staff also scrapes food waste from trays that are placed on the dish return. Ibby’s Bistro also collects all food left on customers’ plates into compost buckets.

Compost created from campus waste can be used in landscaping or farming. (Credit: Joe Angeles)

The Office of Sustainability recently worked with Thurtene Honorary and the Student Union Green Events Commission to compost approximately 1,050 pounds of food waste and compostable utensils/containers during Thurtene Carnival weekend.

According to Will Fischer, sustainability coordinator, the three groups coordinated with nearly all the food vendors at the carnival to provide them with compostable serviceware purchased at a bulk rate through the WUSTL Purchasing Department.

The event was even more successful due to the help of volunteers, Fischer says.

“We had a total of 65 Washington University student and staff volunteers over the weekend, for a total of 180 volunteer hours, at three Green Waste Stations,” Fischer says. “Volunteers helped carnival-goers sort their waste into the appropriate stream, dramatically decreasing the amount of waste sent to the landfill.”

The Office of Sustainability’s next composting venture is the Danforth Campus Staff Day Monday, May 21. Like Thurtene, Staff Day will feature Green Waste Stations manned by volunteers.

The Office of Sustainability is looking for volunteers to staff the Green Waste Stations for one-hour shifts (11 a.m.-noon and noon-1 p.m.). Volunteers will help educate staff members about composting (Office of Sustainability staff can educate volunteers first, if needed) and help them sort their waste. To volunteer, email

The Office of Sustainability is partnering with other schools and organizations across campus to increase composting opportunities for the WUSTL community.

According to Valko, the Office of Sustainability is collaborating with the Brown School to create a pilot program composting paper towels in bathrooms.

The office also is partnering with the Washington University Energy & Environmental Law Society, School of Law and Aramark to implement a six-month pilot project to collect compostable waste in the Crowder Courtyard at Anheuser-Busch Hall. The pilot is scheduled to kick off in August.

For more information about campus composting, email the Office of Sustainability at