9 Clever Ways You Can Initiate Composting Programs on Your Campus

2010-2019 was the warmest decade ever recorded, bringing massive wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and other climate disasters.

In response, many campuses have instituted sustainable practices — such as recycling programs and energy initiatives — that attempt to lower their carbon footprint. 

Many campuses are also phrasing in the use of paper straws, instead of plastic,  along with biodegradable cups and cutlery. Some institutions even have staff who are solely dedicated to developing other ways of going green. 

But another way to live a low-waste lifestyle is to compost, which involves decomposing organic materials into simpler organic and inorganic compounds. Food scraps, cotton products, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, and coffee grounds, among many more items, can be composted. 

Organic materials that you toss in plastic garbage bags will not break down naturally. That’s because organic material needs oxygen to break down and landfills do not have much oxygen. Small critters fill landfills with methane, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming and climate change. 

I have always had a passion for the environment. In my early college days,  I attended the Power Shift Environmental Conference in Washington D.C. And, in December 2016, I stumbled across a Youtube video in which Auri Jackson tried to produce zero waste in 30 days. This video and subsequent videos helped me see the impact that trash and especially plastic have on the environment. 

And during graduate school, I participated in a leadership challenge where I partnered with the office of sustainability to plan a conference. It was there where I discovered their mission to start a composting program with a residence hall and helped grow my love for the environment even more. So, here are nine ways you can help inspire more of your coworkers and students to start or participate in a composting program on your own on campus. 

9 Ideas

1. Collaborate with dining services

Some dining services have composting programs written into their contracts but many do not. A nearby composting facility may charge a small fee to collect the compost from campus.

Many dining companies have moved toward sustainable practices. Schedule a meeting with your dining director and discuss ways to increase sustainability. Perhaps switch to reusable or compostable to-go containers, plates, and cutlery. And they can source food locally so that it will be fresher, reduces the carbon footprint, and supports local businesses.

gif of Remy from Ratatouille enjoying a bite of a strawberry

2. Get a residence hall on board

Some institutions have residence halls dedicated to students who are passionate about environmental issues. 

For example, Strong Residence Hall at UNC Greensboro is dedicated to energy efficiency, and the students wanted to start a composting program in the residence hall in 2019. Students were to receive a compost bin to hold their food scraps and organic materials for composting.

Getting students to buy into sustainable practices is a great way to start composting. This is a great initiative for learning communities, plus it provides residence life an opportunity to partner with the campus sustainability office. 

3. Create a leadership role devoted to composting

There are likely students on your campus who are passionate and knowledgeable about composting and other forms of sustainability. You should nurture their enthusiasm! 

When students help create a program, they will enthusiastically spread the word to their friends and classmates on campus. So, consider working with your sustainability office to offer paid internships or student assistantships solely dedicated to composting. 

You can also collaborate with student leaders within sustainability clubs, environmental science clubs, or similar groups to create a leadership role on their executive board. These elected leaders can serve ts as liaisons for the campus-wide composting program. The role would give students great experience for their futures and help build a program that will last for many years through partnerships with living-learning communities and dining services.  

4. Work with your groundskeepers and maintenance staff

Working with facilities and grounds management departments is another way to kickstart your composting program. These departments pick up organic materials like leaves, grass, and shrub clippings, which are great for composting. 

The leadership of these departments can help you set up a collection site for the materials that you can pick up to add to the compost pile. You can set up a training with the department to go over the logistics and teach the team all about composting. 

gif of a person saying 'teamwork'

5. Get alumni buy-in

Alumni from your institution may work in businesses that are trying to go green. They may also be looking to donate to organizations that are building sustainability programs. 

Work with your alumni relations office to contact alumni for funding. They can ask to create an endowment to support the start of the composting program. Once your campus composting program is up and running, recent graduates may be more likely to donate to the fund so that the program can continue. 

6. Get creative

If your campus has a community garden, it could pose a great opportunity for composting. 

Work with student gardeners to create a composting program wherein students, faculty, and staff can bring their organic materials to the garden or a drop-off site on campus. Organic matter will break down and help fertilize the soil so the garden will grow. This will not only support student leaders but can be a great way to further promote community gardening on campus. 

7. Get the surrounding community involved

Collaborating with a community partner, such as farmer market organizers or local farmers, can be a great way to build sustainable practices on campus. If dining services is dedicated to sustainable food sourcing, then local farms will further strengthen partnerships on and off-campus. 

If your campus is in a more urban area without nearby farming, there may still be local gardeners or other community groups who are trying to start composting programs. You can consult ShareWaste to find community members seeking composting materials.

8. Partner with academic departments

Biology and environmental science departments could be great partners for your composting program. Georgia College and State University developed a composting initiative in partnership with Sodexo Dining in 2017. The compost is sent to the community garden where the biology and environmental science departments conduct research. Establishing similar partnerships on your campus will provide faculty and students with valuable research opportunities.

9. Start on Earth Day

Many campuses host programming on or around Earth Day,  which is celebrated every April 22, so it can be a great way to kick-start your composting program!. You’ll knock out two birds with one stone by promoting an event for the holiday while accelerating your composting program.

You can have students and colleagues give lessons on how to create a composting bin for apartments and houses, talk to students about what can and cannot be composted, decorate their composting bins, and invite local farmers and vendors to bring fresh produce that is sustainably sourced. (Here are some examples of ways campuses celebrate Earth Day! Want to stretch the fun even more? Why not celebrate Earth Week; you can find some examples here!)

gif of someone pouring soil into the group

We’d love to learn about your campus’s composting program! Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.

Lizz Giordano

About the author: Lizz Giordano (she/her) is a career advisor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She earned her master's from UNC Greensboro in higher education administration. Lizz is passionate about making the world a greener place and loves Taylor Swift and broadway musicals. Learn how we can help get your students involved.