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Why is it so difficult to compost on campus?

Sabrina Nemis | Fulcrum Staff

RECYCLING BINS SEEM to be everywhere at the University of Ottawa—you can sort and dispose of paper, metals, plastic, and glass on nearly every floor of every building. But what about compost bins?

Where are the bins?

The University of Ottawa has a goal of being waste-free; it even has its own compost facilities to help it get there.

“[The machine] is just, basically, a giant stainless steel drum that turns. That’s it,” said Brigitte Morin, the Waste Diversion Coordinator for the Office of Campus Sustainability. This machine can be found in the parking lot behind the 200 Lees campus.

However, students who want to sort their trash and recyclables from their food waste don’t always have a place to do so. Students know compost bins exist; there are receptacles in cafeterias like the one in the university centre. But unlike paper, glass, and plastic, composting isn’t always available.

“There are a few buildings on campus where I just can’t seem to find [a compost bin], and others where there are plenty,” said Emily Manns, third year communications student.

Even in residence, composting on campus can seem like an inconvenience.

“I live in 90U—they don’t have compost in their rooms, you’ve got to take it downstairs,” said Nicholas Cherlet, first year history and political science student.

So where are the compost bins?

“Every single building is equipped with at least one location. But it’s not necessarily all accessible to the public,” said Morin.

The locations that students can’t see are in restaurants and cafeterias—places where large quantities of food might otherwise go to waste. This still doesn’t help the student eating fruit on their way to class, wondering where to properly dispose of their banana peel.


Doing it properly

There are several reasons why the University of Ottawa doesn’t provide students with more compost receptacles outside of normal eating areas.

“The cleaning staff don’t actually empty those [receptacles] everywhere, every day, and you don’t want to have an apple core sitting in there for a week or so,” Morin said. “So the locations that do have compost are the locations that they empty out every single day.”

But there’s a bigger problem preventing the Office of Campus Sustainability from installing compost bins in all waste locations.

“People don’t take the time to look at the sign and actually do it properly,” said Morin.

Not taking a moment to do a simple action like sorting food can cause the entire receptacle to go to waste.

“That compost gets thrown out every night,” Morin said, speaking of the new Faculty of Social Sciences building, “because no one is actually doing it right, even though it’s our new green building and everything. We don’t know what actually motivates someone to put cans or chip bags in the compost.”

For students who don’t take the time to look at the pictures on each receptacle or who are unsure about what can actually be composted, Morin has a simple tip that anyone can follow.

“If you can eat it, then it can go in,” she said.

Looking to do some composting at home? It is possible, says Nicholas Cherlet, employee at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)-run Sustainable Development Centre.

“I actually have the worms. I do my own composting in my apartment,” Cherlet said.

He purchased the worms at the Farmer’s Market held in the university centre every two weeks.

“It’s not too difficult. The first few weeks you’ve got to be fairly careful that they don’t die on you and the habitat develops, but once they’re established, it’s basically just put your stuff in there and they just eat it,” he said. “It’s a lot more convenient than lugging your stuff to the compost every few days.”

The compost collected across campus is used to help care for lawns, trees, and gardens. It’s also the simplest and most effective small action that students can take to help the planet.

“No other small-scale action that people can do will have as much direct impact on the environment that you’re living in,” said Morin.


Making the pledge

The Office of Campus Sustainability also has upcoming events to encourage students to be mindful of their waste and disposal habits.

“The university participates in an international competition called RecycleMania, which lasts two months. That’s going to start Feb. 3,” said Morin. “This is our fifth year that we’ll be participating and we’ve actually been Canadian champions for the last four years, so we’re hoping to be champions again.”

Students trying to live greener, more environmentally friendly lives can also participate in a contest through RecycleMania.

“We’re running a pledge to live waste-free—it’s a contest where we invite students and staff to live waste-free for a period of time of their choice, up to two months of RecycleMania, if they want,” said Morin. “What that means is they don’t produce anything that goes to landfill. They can sign up for the contest on our website.”

As far as compost bins go, having more locations is up to everyone on campus: Students need to be more responsible.

“If people start sorting their stuff properly,” said Morin, “eventually compost [bins are] going to be everywhere.”