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Award from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection brings project one step closer to goal of composting all College-generated food waste

Lafayette has received a $41,082 Compost Infrastructure Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to expand food waste composting on campus.

“This grant will make it possible to compost tons more—literally—of the food waste produced at Lafayette,” says Jennifer Bell ’11 (Purcellville, Va.), a geology major.

Bell, along with students from Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP) and Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (SEES), has been instrumental in organizing the program, which was initiated by Arthur D. Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. As an EXCEL research scholar working alongside Kney, Bell helped to develop the grant proposal.

The ultimate goal of the project is to compost all of the food waste generated by Lafayette Dining Services. The grant will fund the installation of two Earth Tub composting units and monitoring equipment, which will make it possible to compost up to 1,000 pounds of food and yard waste a day. Currently, the operation composts only a fraction of the estimated 1,300 pounds of food waste that Lafayette’s dining facilities produce daily.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to get the institutionalized program up and going,” Kney says. He estimates it will take about a year to set up the infrastructure and get systems working correctly and another year to work out the complete program.

The grant will help position Lafayette as a regional and state leader for institutional food waste composting. The project will have research, education, and community outreach benefits as well.

“The main goal of LEAP and SEES is to educate the college and surrounding community about environmental sustainability. The introduction of the composting program to this campus has brought awareness to LEAP and SEES members, but also to the rest of the campus and even others in the area,” Bell says. “Students in LEAP and SEES have learned firsthand about the composting process and changing food waste into fresh soil. It is a satisfying experience to watch something change from trash to a beneficial product that can be used on campus grounds and gardens.”

The nutrient-rich finished compost will be used on campus and will be given to community gardens and individual gardeners as part of the West Ward Urban Ecology Project.

LEAP and SEES are educating the college community about the compost project and food waste. Their efforts are paying off. Dining Services has taken steps to do away with non-compostable containers and utensils in its facilities. Students eating in Farinon dining hall have been encouraged to put their food waste in the “compostable only” bin. LEAP and SEES organized an “all compostable” picnic during first-year student orientation and sold compost tumblers to people interested in home composting.

“With this project and others like it, it is the students that are drivers. They come to faculty and administrators with these types of ideas and projects, and they are leading the way as we move forward with them,” Kney says. “It is exciting that all levels of the college community are working together on this, administration, plant operations, dining services, students, and faculty. Because of this cooperative team we are expecting great outcomes.”

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