Offices get down & dirty with composting

Office Organics Program looking to help prevent 70 per cent of campus waste from going into landfills

Office Organics places green bins in campus offices, diverting approximately 200 kg of organic waste from landfills each week.
Office Organics places green bins in campus offices, diverting approximately 200 kg of organic waste from landfills each week.

Every week, 64 green bins worth of waste are diverted from landfills. That’s 200 kg, thanks to an initiative undertaken by the Queen’s Sustainability Office.

The University’s Office Organics Program, which was jumpstarted earlier this February, has currently provided 22 campus office buildings with green organic waste containers.

“If you look across Kingston, most people are already familiar with what’s considered organic materials,” said Aaron Ball, Queen’s sustainability manager.

Programs like Office Organics will make a difference in the University’s ability to improve upon diverting food waste, Ball said.

The initiative was implemented following a Jan. 2011 audit conducted by the University, which showed that approximately 70 per cent of campus waste going to landfills was organic and could have been averted.

Since the Program’s inauguration, offices such as the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC), Duncan McArthur Hall and the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre in Mackintosh-Corry Hall have all requested in-office compost bins.

Llynwen Osborne, waste and information coordinator at the Queen’s Sustainability Office, said the first to get on board with the initiative was the Ban Righ Centre and the bulk of the other participants, such as Health, Counselling and Disability Services, joined this past spring.

Prior to the official launch in February, the Sustainability Office expressed its interest in the Program and was approached by various offices regarding involvement.

Currently the Program is volunteer-operated, relying on participating offices to empty their own organic waste into a central receptacle located outside of Ban Righ dining hall.

“We don’t have the manpower right now to get custodial staff going around to all the offices and collecting the organic material,” Osborne said.

Despite this, Osborne said departments have been eager to take on the responsibility of a self-managed composting program. Most say it’s an easy way for them to do their part for the environment, she said. The reliance on volunteers means there’s no additional staffing cost.

Departments interested in participating must submit an online form, and are then provided with a collection container for the organic waste and literature on what’s compostable.

The second-largest portion of waste came from paper materials, accounting for 15 per cent of the total.

Joining the ranks of blue and grey bins, the organic waste containers provide offices a way to compost their waste and reduce their ecological footprint.

The Program also provides on-site consulting to familiarize office members with the concept. This entails explaining what may go into the collection containers and helping the office set up a schedule for emptying out the bin.

The QUIC received these resources when they signed up this past spring.

Justin Kerr, QUIC international student advisor, said his office joined the Program because they wished to be proactive about reducing the amount of waste that was sent to landfills.

“After deciding to participate in the program at a staff meeting, a number of volunteers, including our director, came forward to help with the emptying and cleaning of the office bin,” said Kerr.

Despite seeing this team collaboration thus far, Kerr said it would be great to see the Program become a part of general University policy, rather than relying on the goodwill of interested students, staff and faculty.

A similar program has been running since 2003 at the University of Guelph. Currently, 22 campus locations are participating. In addition to office participants, smaller apartment-style residences are also involved.

Gillian Maurice, sustainability coordinator at the University of Guelph said that because their program operates on a relatively small scale, participating locations must ask staff members to volunteer to take out their organic waste.

Each participating location is set up with backyard compost where they can empty their indoor green bin, as opposed to a central receptacle somewhere on campus like Office Organics at Queen’s.

“The financial and logistical barriers to setting up a university-operated organics program were just too formidable,” Maurice said. “So this program still allows people to participate in sustainability efforts, but on an individual scale.”

The Office Organics Program is the newest addition to a larger composting initiative that already involved back-of-house collection of food waste in residence dining halls, like Ban Righ. Kitchen staff deposit food waste incurred from cooking and preparation in compost bins, which are then removed to a larger receptacle outside of the building.

The Program is responsible for annually diverting 100 metric tons of organic waste.

In further expansion, the Sustainability Office and the AMS are hoping to partner up in the near future to run an environmental office certification program.

The program will track the environmental habits of offices on campus and look at things such as composting, energy usage and transportation.

The AMS offices will be the pilot project for the program, said AMS Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainability, Ty Greene.

“We’re the student government here, we should be leading by example,” Greene, PheKin ’13, said.

Eventually he’d like to see AMS services give patrons the ability to compost through front-of-house bins.

“That’s a little bit more challenging because obviously in back of house you train your staff to put it in an organics bins and they’re going to do it,” he said.

Students like Cassandra Kuyvenhoven, PhD ’16, who’s working on a project with members of Queen’s faculty to examine Canada’s waste future, said a collective effort is needed to reduce our ecological footprint as a university.

“What makes a campus slightly unique is that there are so many stakeholders in waste production that go above and beyond students,” Kuyvenhoven said.

She said a unique factor in managing waste in a university setting is that students may not necessarily be committed full-time to their community.

“Queen’s holds a transitory population where the students are not here year-round and so there are quite a few situational factors to keep in mind when thinking about how university students might produce waste differently than other populations,” she said.

Kuyvenhoven also cites student-specific activities as a source of additional waste.

“You see peak waste days like move-out day where there’s piles and piles of waste,” she said. “That comes from having a population that’s here for eight months out of the 12.”

— With files from Alison Shouldice

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