Over the 1999 spring semester, students enrolled in a sustainable development curriculum at Appalachian State spearheaded a project to collect food waste from campus food services. A year later, students in an Appropriate Technology curriculum track launched a pilot project, constructing an aerated static pile and composting about 18 tons of food waste. At last count (2008/2009), that had increased to 105 tons annually. “The compost is utilized back into landscape application on campus as well as at our sustainable farm and edible schoolyard,” says Jennifer Maxwell, resource conservation manager for the university. “The facility is open to student tours at any time and is mostly utilized by classes within our Appropriate Technology and Sustainable Development program courses.”

A Sustainable Resource Management course has provided some hands-on educational opportunities where students get involved with compost process management as well as equipment operation. The Teaching and Research Farm, where much of the finished compost is utilized, is housed within the school’s Sustainable Development program.

One of the biggest challenges getting the project off the ground was gaining buy-in from food services, which had to learn new ways of operating. “To begin with, the collection of the food waste was going to be handled in the prep area of central dining, so food services’ involvement was crucial,” Maxwell says, adding that ongoing training has been critical to the success of this program. “Our recycling department has also had to promote ongoing education and training not only in the pickup and transport of the food waste, but in the compost processing area as well. Now that these challenges have been overcome, we have seen tremendous growth over the years. We have been able to expand to some postconsumer collection, as well as bring other departments on board as well.”

Appalachian State’s program has become a model to other institutions and has been quite successful as an educational tool, she adds. “It gives our students the opportunity to see sustainable resource management in action right here on our campus. It is also successful in that it is a wonderful example of how collaborative efforts can work to promote sustainability on any campus or community. Another reward is that the outcome is beautiful, rich compost that we use on our campus.”

Source: BioCycle Magazine July 2010, Vol. 51, No. 7, p. 44 by managing editor, Dan Sullivan

Learn more about Appalachian State’s overall sustainability efforts at http://sustainability.appstate.edu/