Campus compost

The composting situation is lacking at RPI. Commons composts the food waste produced during meal prep and leftovers that aren’t served. However, all the food scraps left at the end of our meals are tossed into the trash. If RPI establishes a composting program, all the food waste and napkins could be put in composting stacks that could take 6–8 months to fully decompose. The end product is “finished compost,” which is basically soil that is extremely rich in nutrients. That finished compost could be used to fertilize our campus’ landscaping.

There are many cool ways to use compost. For my Nature and Society class, I have a service learning project that requires me to visit the Radix Center in Albany. The Radix Center is an urban farm that promotes sustainability in the community through educational programs and demonstrations. On Wednesdays, my groupmates and I take the bus down to Radix to learn about sustainability. Last Wednesday, co-founder of Radix Scott Kellogg, showed us a biothermal heater made by a group of RPI environmental engineers and professor Yuri Gorby in 2015. The biothermal heater uses heat given off by a compost pile to heat parts of Radix’s greenhouse. The compost pile was 10 feet in diameter and six feet high. As the material in the pile decomposes, it gives off heat. To harness this energy, polyethylene tubing comes out the greenhouse’s water heater, spirals through the pile, and goes back into the water heater. The only drawback is that the pile will decompose and needs to be built back up every year. Regardless, this is a really hot topic.

Composting is important because it reduces the amount of waste going to landfills. Waste in landfills is tightly packed together, and anaerobic processes occur that produce methane as a byproduct, which is then released into the atmosphere. In 2015, methane accounted for 10 percent of the United States’ green house gas emissions. Though methane’s lifetime is shorter than carbon’s in the atmosphere, methane is more effective at trapping heat. The majority of methane comes from landfills. One way to decrease methane emissions would be to decrease the amount of waste that goes to landfills. In short, you can reduce waste and save the environment by: buying less items, buying reusable items, avoiding unnecessary packaging, repurposing items instead of tossing them, and composting (of course)!