The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 3:46 p.m.

UMaine to turn food scraps into compost with first ‘advanced-composting system’ in state

A new composting facility located on Rangeley Road is the first “advanced-composting” system in the state, brought to life through collaboration between University of Maine Dining Services and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

The facility will turn nearly one ton of food waste from campus dining facilities into a high quality advanced compost to be used for grounds and other campus needs. Auxiliary Services purchased the composter from Green Mountain Technologies, a company based in Washington. Facilities Management will be running the facility on a day-to-day basis.

The University has been composting food waste for nearly 15 years; however, it has never been this advanced and is usually not on site. Auxiliary Services had contracted out the composting of its organic waste and is proud to see it come back to campus, which aside from being environmentally friendly, will also lessen the cost of composting.

“It will be considerably cheaper to compost on site rather than contracting to a private business,” said Dan Sturrup, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services.

Instead of the typical exposed composting system, “the composting process takes place in an enclosed unit […] that is essentially a 10 feet wide by 40 feet long by 5 feet tall steel dumpster with a clear plastic greenhouse on top,” said Misa Saros, University of Maine conservation and energy compliance specialist. “[This system] offers multiple benefits, including odor control, elimination of possible pest issues and acceleration of the composting process.”

The advanced composting system “is utilizing all the technology available,” Sturrup said. “It’s a really high quality product.”

The resulting compost has been tailored to scientific perfection by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, specifically by Extension professor Mark Hutchinson, who has had years of composting experience.

“I deal with compost worldwide, and it’s nice to see it come to our backyard,” Hutchinson said.

Saros believes this facility is a step towards sustainability on campus.

“This is a fantastic example of efficient and productive use of a valuable resource […] that is too often treated as ‘waste’ and disposed of […] in landfills or incinerators,” Saros said.

In collaboration with the Littlefield Nurseries and Hoop Houses, UMaine will be able to say “it goes not just from plate back to plant, but back to plate again because they’re producing products that we actually use in our kitchens,” Sturrup said.

“The whole goal was to bring [composting] back to campus, have it available for grounds, have it available for the Hoop House. The farm will use it as an amendment for their soils as well,” Sturrup said.

Sturrup did not rule out the option of commercially selling it if enough compost is produced.

Having this facility on campus will also serve as a learning tool to students of the school of Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Agriculture who wish to expand their knowledge on the processes of food sustainability. Environmental Science student Christopher Nashi says he’s glad the University is bringing such an advanced system of composting to campus.

“It’s really great when what I am learning in the classroom is actually brought to life on campus,” Nashi said. “It’s something that is really encouraging.

The departments involved are hopeful that this will also send a positive message to the community and spark interest about being sustainable and environmentally friendly. Like the Littlefield Nurseries and Winter Farm, educational sessions will be tied into the facility to educate people on how the system actually works firsthand.

The facility will take about $25,000 a year to run with funding coming from the auxiliary budget.