Student group calls out the University for stalling composting efforts

The University’s largest sustainability organization launched a petition this week urging GW to begin making efforts to become waste-free, a goal that students argue is a tangible way to shrink the college’s environmental footprint.

The online petition stresses composting and recycling efforts across campus, which can kick off more quickly than longer-term goals like eliminating carbon emissions by 2040.

Green GW president Isabelle Riu said she helped create the petition, which garnered more than 80 signatures as of Wednesday, to show that students wanted to see more immediate actions, despite potentially high upfront costs because the amount of compost GW would create would have to be transported to a composting facility every month.

“We want to show the University that this is something students want so this should really be at the top of their list, and it’s something that they should see as an emphasis in their budget,” Riu said.

Last year, GW recycled about 276,000 pounds of waste. In a three-month recycling competition last year, about 22 percent of all waste generated was recycled, highlighting a lack of student buy-in that has plagued sustainability efforts since the Office of Sustainability launched in 2009.

While composting was included in a decade-long sustainability plan outlined earlier this month, Riu pointed out that the Office of Sustainability was already behind on its aim to compost food waste from both dining halls and residence halls on the Mount Vernon Campus by fall 2012. The current practice involves composting only food preparation materials in the Pelham dining hall.

Director Meghan Chapple-Brown declined to comment on why the composting plan has been delayed.

Because most of food waste comes from residence halls, Green GW called composting “an urgent concern that needs to be addressed,” and that the issue needed to be a focus on the Foggy Bottom campus now, instead of a decade down the road. The sustainability office also pledged to set up composting bins and plots on Foggy Bottom by fall 2013, but Chapple-Brown did not say if this was behind schedule or not.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that we have all of these compostable containers at J Street but they’re being thrown away in a landfill. So what’s the point?” Riu, an environmental studies major, said. She said compostable food containers biodegrade more quickly in a plot rather than a landfill because of the additional air.

Riu said she hopes to reach 1,500 signatures by the spring. The organization plans to present the petition, which is also online at, to administrators in early March.

The Food Justice Alliance composts on a small scale at its GW’s GroW Gardens.

EnviRelation, a company that manages and transports compost from large-scale organizations like universities monthly to composting facilities, charges $45 for every 35-gallon container of compost on a site each month. The company requires a minimum of three containers on each site, but GW would have a larger amount of waste.

Chapple-Brown said the office is “pleased” to see GW students supporting the composting targets and will work with Green GW as they look to create composting sites across the University’s campuses.

Chapple-Brown said the office is working with Campus Support Services, Campus Dining Services and Facilities Services to start student composting in Pelham Commons, but declined to provide a target start date.

The University also committed to a city-wide sustainability effort last spring, organized by Mayor Vincent Gray, which laid out waste reduction goals like reducing bottle water consumption. Knapp has prioritized sustainability since his arrival to GW in 2007, convening a sustainability-focused task force in 2007 that formed the Office of Sustainability two years later.

The ecosystem plan released this month marks one of the first times a university has aimed to reduce its impact on its environment across six different areas including water quality and food production. Previously, comprehensive plans like GW’s were taken on by corporations like Dow Chemical.

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