What’s taking so long with composting?

Calista Rockwell

As I walk out of Northern Lights Dining (NLD) every morning, after my ritual coffee, banana and omelette trifecta, I can’t help but wonder what’s to come of my scraps left on my plate. I place my plate on the metal assembly line responsible for disposing of my remnants and watch as it departs on its journey to the unknowns behind.

For many, what happens to our food waste is not something that passes through our minds on a daily basis and frankly, with the way our food system is set up, we really aren’t meant to. 

From an early age I can remember thinking of the trash as the “end-of-the-line” for food, and when the garbage man came down my street at 2 p.m. every Monday, he would take my waste to the magical dump where I would never see it again. I realize now that I was an uninformed consumer, mindlessly doing what our capitalist society had programmed me to do. Mindlessly consume. But this is not how our young minds should be thinking. Let’s start with the facts. 

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that almost 20% of methane production comes from landfills. But hey, what happened to the landfills being the end of the line for food? Doesn’t our food waste disappear there? Not exactly. As food in landfills decompose in its compact space, often with the absence of air, the anaerobic process creates methane gas. Considering methane production is a huge contributor to the increased rate of climate change, this calls for action, right? But what?   

The answer is compost. Composting is the process of decomposing organic solid waste. This can be done by mixing “green” and “brown” materials. So for instance, the banana peel on my plate after breakfast every morning is considered a “green” material while cardboard or newspaper collected throughout campus is considered a  “brown” material. As they decompose together, this  substance can be added to flower beds and plant beds, to be used as a natural fertilizer and promote plant growth. Not only is composting a great way to recycle food, but a way to keep decomposing food out of the landfills and in turn lessen methane production. 

This past weekend coincidentally enough, I attended a Climate Change Conference at St. Mary’s College in Indiana. There too, I continued my structured daily trifecta of coffee, banana and omelette. Though, I noticed something that our dining hall lacked as I took my plate to the dishwasher. This campus had implemented a composting system, in which the students were responsible for separating their waste from compost. The compost was then collected and used in their own community garden. This opened my eyes to the efforts other universities are taking to make change, and the lack of our own. 

So Northern, what’s the big hold up? NMU should make it a priority to unite for sustainability. It is obvious that our student body is concerned for our future, as seen in the massive turnout of this past weekend’s Climate Strike on campus. Why can’t we use this drive, this motivation, this power to unite and take action with how we contribute to the problem at our school? I believe that if our dining hall implemented a composting system, we could naturally recycle our food waste. Not only will this help to make a dent in the increased rate of climate change through methane emissions in landfills, but it will also open up the opportunity of a campus community garden, which could be used to feed the student body on campus and unite us for the common goal of sustainability. 

So NMU, what do you say? Let’s change the fate of our plates.