Posted February 28, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Campus Compost Contaminated

Silver Springs, the commercial composting facility that turns Evergreen’s waste from food service areas into compost, is no longer accepting compostable serving utensils at their compost facility.

Since 2008 Evergreen has been collecting food waste and other compostable items from the food service areas around campus, including compostable cups, plates, and utensils, to be composted and then redistributed with Silver Springs rather than thrown into a landfill.

“This has a big impact on our current practices and we are currently exploring a variety of options to keep us from taking a backwards step away from the college’s zero waste goal,” said Director of Sustainability Scott Morgan, in an email sent out to staff and faculty.

All food service locations on campus are modifying their practices to comply with Silver Springs’ restrictions and ask that only food scraps be dropped into the organic wastes and all food-soiled and compostable products be placed into the landfill bin.

“[The Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Council] are reviewing other options and solutions to this change and hope to minimize this disruption in our waste reduction efforts,” Morgan said.

In the fall of 2009 Evergreen drafted a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. Since then, Evergreen was diverting almost 30 percent of the college’s total waste away from landfill until Silver Springs’ refusal to accept the compostable ware in the compost waste.

According to Morgan, most of the progress made toward a zero waste goal has been aimed at sustainability measures in food service areas on campus.  All campus food service sites run by Aramark in addition to The Flaming Eggplant, invest in biodegradable cups, napkins, and other food utensils that would break down easier than conventional plastic, foam, and paper dining ware used previously.

Silver Springs has not released any public statements explaining why the company stopped taking compostable ware. In November of 2012, Silver Spring updated their online unacceptable materials list to include soiled paper products and “plastics of any kind”. The update also states, “Food waste collected and hauled in a stationary compactor is prohibited from acceptance at Silver Springs Organics and will be rejected prior to offloading. This list is subject to change without prior notice at the sole discretion of Silver Springs Organics’ management.”

According to Morgan, Evergreen is one of Silver Springs’ smaller customers. The composting company also takes organic waste from Thurston County Solid Waste, City of Olympia, and Saint Martin’s University. “Silver Springs hasn’t shared this with all their customers yet,” said Morgan.

According to Morgan, the Office of Sustainability and Sustainability Council are considering three solutions to Evergreen’s reduced ability to compost food service materials. The first option involves gathering requests from a significant amount of Silver Springs’ customers, as opposed to Evergreen alone, asking that the composting company return to its former policies.

Seeking the services of a different composter who takes compostable ware is the second option on the table. Cedar Grove is the nearest alternative with locations in Maple Valley and Everett. The cost and impact of contracting with a new hauler to transport organic waste a longer distance have to be weighed against those of reverting to non-compostable items and the resulting landfill entry expenses.

“The third and most exciting option [is establishing] an on-site system,” said Morgan. Establishing Evergreen’s own composting system is also the most complicated.

Morgan said, “There are an enormous amount of details, no least of which is how to pay for it.” Evergreen’s organic waste disposal expenses total $4,800 per year. For this option to be feasible, its benefits have to serve the interests of a number of departments, including RAD Services, Grounds Management, on-campus gardens, and the Organic Farm. Costs entail the purchase, construction, staffing, maintenance, and operation of a system that can break down eco-plastics and biodegradable paper products. “[Overall costs and benefits depend on] if I can tie it in with student learning and with a couple of other opportunities…to create a synergy,” said Morgan.

By Cassandra Johnson-Villalobos