This article was written by PSC Student and Sustainability Assistant Hannah Rion
Do you ever think about the amount of food you produce in a day, a week, or a month? How about the amount of food that doesn’t even see a fork or spoon, but just gets tossed in the trash? That has been the sad story for the food scraps that are produced in our culinary labs here at Paul Smith’s College. In fact, three years ago there was a campus-wide program known as “Food Scraps for Pigs” where pre-consumer food waste from Cantwell, as well as the dining hall was being used by Atlas Hoofed It Farm, in Vermontville, NY, to feed pigs. There were challenges with pickup and consistent collection of scraps, so the program wasn’t continued, but recently Emily Sommer’s Farm to Table class has partnered with Sustainability Coordinator Kate Glenn and Jake Vennie-Vollrath of Moonstone Farm, to collect and donate our food scraps to Moonstone Farm for animal feed and compost.
The Farm to Table culinary class, part of the new two-year accelerated culinary program, was visiting Moonstone Farm on a monthly basis, “to get their hands dirty and learn more about the ins and outs of running a small farm in the Adirondacks”, as Jake explained to me. The class also started to brainstorm ideas on how to solve some of the problems the farm was facing. One of these lurking issues happened to be “inputs” and soil health, which Jake was currently sourcing compost from Vermont to solve. Thus caused Emily and the class to start thinking they could have a real potential impact if they were to start diverting the pre-consumer waste from the culinary labs here on campus to Moonstone Farm. Emily then mentioned the project to Kate Glenn, Sustainability Coordinator for the college, and so the wheels began to turn. Kate Glenn then organized a planning meeting with the facilities department, Sodexo, and Emily to develop and establish a written plan and procedures for the project. During the meeting it was discussed who would collect the buckets, how they would be delivered and other remaining logistics. With the purchase of five gallon buckets, funded by the Sustainability Grant, the project was officially up-and-running. Additionally, Kate brought in the support from Sodexo to have the dining hall’s pre-consumer food waste also be diverted to the farm.
“Moonstone Farm specializes in growing heirloom vegetables organically and healthy soils grow tastier vegetables”, says Jake. The food waste serves a variety of purposes on the farm, such as feeding chickens directly, feeding mealworms and black soldier flies which eventually feed the chickens, while the rest is “…composted to create organic matter for our greenhouses, hopyard, fruit trees/bushes, and vegetable fields.” In the short time of a month, the dining hall has collected 218.2 pounds of pre-consumer food waste thanks to the help of Sodexo employees. Meanwhile, the Culinary Department has gathered 251.2 pounds with the help of students and instructors. Evidently, this diversion of food waste is serving an extremely more purposeful objective than it would sitting in a landfill spewing off methane gas Furthermore, this practice allows for a decrease in the heavy food waste facilities has to dispose of, and can be reflected on the college’s Greenhouse Gas Report, which tracks the production of methane.
Pre-consumer food waste is often overlooked when discussing composting practices, causing it to become a growing problem. This type of composting specifically focuses on the scraps that are a byproduct of food preparation. Food loss and waste accounts for about 4.4 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per year. To put this in perspective, if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest GHG emitter – surpassed only by China and the United States” (“Food Waste Facts”). A large portion of this food waste could be gold for many farmers in helping them restore nutrients to their soil. Jake shares that, “Not only is reducing food waste (or redirecting it to better uses) economically smart, it might be the easiest thing that we can do to address global warming.” The implementation of more programs like these across the United States is essential to help combat the negative effects of food waste. This project serves as a perfect example of discovering an issue and developing a working solution.
Both Emily and Jake believe the program is working extremely well, however, they share high hopes for the future. Jake shared with me that this partnership has inspired him to “think bigger” and someday he hopes “…to soon obtain all of PSC’s food waste for composting and assist the college in making it completely food waste free.” The farm is also currently working on plans for a larger drum composter that could handle more volume and produce compost more efficiently than the existing compost piles. As for Emily and her Farm to Table class, she says, “The main reason for our Farm to Table class was so that the students can appreciate more where their food is coming from, how much work goes into getting it in their fridges and on their tables. So adding the composting buckets was just another step into appreciating our food that much more.”
The Smitty Sustainability Committee fully supports the efforts of all the people involved in this project, especially the students who are filling the buckets with proper pre-consumer food scraps. The committee is currently working with the dining hall to design an effective program to tackle post-consumer food waste on campus. We will be implementing a separate bin labeled compost and providing signage that educates students on what they can scrape into the bin later in the spring semester. Combating food waste is an extremely critical issue that needs action sooner, rather than later. By keeping the conversation and programs like this going, everyone involved hopes to have a significant positive impact.
Would you like to make a difference on campus? You can learn more about the possibility of funding from the Sustainability Grant by reaching out to Hannah Rion, Sustainability Grant and Office Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting https://www.paulsmiths.edu/sustainability/campus-sustainability-fund/
Paul Smith’s College is the only four year college located within the Adirondack Park,
making it unique. It is also very unique in its experiential learning, which attracts a unique type
of student. The students that go to Paul Smith’s usually have a love for the outdoors, and some
amount of consciousness of environmental issues. But at Paul Smith’s, like many others
institutions, there are misconceptions around environmental issues on their campus. This is why
getting the right information out to the campus is so important. A common misconception is that
Paul Smith’s College does not recycle, when in actuality, they do.
The system on the Paul Smith’s College campus is Zero-Sort recycling by Casella. This
means that all the recyclables like paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal cans are put in one
bin, eliminating the separating process. Many students believe that the college does not actually
recycle, because students can see facilities throw the recycling bags away at times. If a bag of
recycling is more than ten percent contaminated, it must be thrown away because the recycling
collector (Casella) will not accept more than that amount of unrecyclable material in the
recycling. To help mitigate this issue, there are now student workers that physically sort through
the recycling on the campus.
The recycling crew initiative began last Spring 2017 with four students who set up the
system that is now in place. Each day, facilities brings all of the recycling to the main recycling
container, and from there the recycling crew sorts through it. Having this physical separation is
important, because it assures that the system is recycling the maximum amount and no recycling
is thrown away if it isn’t contaminated.
The most common issue seen on the Paul Smith’s College campus is that the recycling is
not cleaned out, whether it is a soda or soup can, shampoo or conditioner, or anything else, it
must be washed out and clean. Another issue is when full coffees are thrown into the recycling.
The coffee contaminates everything else within the bag, therefore the bag must be thrown out.
Taking the time to make sure that what is being put in the recycling is actually recyclable is so
important, and something that the campus community struggles with. But do the efforts of
recycling even make a difference?
Recently there has been a lot of chatter around the topic of recycling. According to a New
York Times article “Plastics Pile Up as China refuses to Take the West’s Recycling,” on January
1, 2018 China banned the import of many recyclables from the West. Previously, the United
States had sent recycled plastics and others recyclables over to China to be made into new
products. With this ban in affect, recyclables are piling up. In some cases, people are just burying
their recyclables because there is no place for them. This action is then harmful to the
environment because the chemicals in the plastics can leech into the ground water or the
A study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health showed that participants who
drank water from popular polycarbonate water bottles for a week had a two-thirds increase in
their urine of bisphenol A (BPA). According to this study, exposure to BPA has been linked to
cardiovascular disease in humans. If drinking from plastic water bottles can have this kind of
effect on human’s health, imagine the effect that plastic has on the environment.
One simple solution to this issue, is to stop buying products with a lot of plastic
packaging. I know that this is challenging, some of the cheapest things are packaged with lots
plastic. But doing something as easy as bringing a reusable bag with you shopping, so you don’t
have to use a plastic bag, can really help. Plastic bags are actually not accepted in the recycling
system on campus, but they are a big issue around the world. According to Health Guidance,
there are an estimated 300 million plastic bags that accumulate in the Atlantic Ocean each year.
This has a negative effect on sea life, because they can be mistaken for a meal, and will cut off
the airway of many animals, causing so many needless deaths each year.
So yes, Paul Smith’s College does recycle, and so should you. Getting the right
information out to the campus community is something that is currently holding the college back
from having a really successful recycling program, but you could help. Read the signs above each
bin and make sure what you are recycling is actually recyclable and that it is clean. Doing this
will help not only our environment, but also the student workers that have to sort it each day.
Jordan, Tom, and Julie here. When sorting though this weeks recycling we noted that there were a lot of coffee cups and Doritos bags in the recycling bags – these items are not recyclable. Common issues also include containers not being emptied and rinsed of food and/or drinks. PLEASE RINSE CONTAINERS OUT BEFORE YOU RECYCLE THEM. We also did not appreciate the dead animal left by the dumpster. If you are a hunter, please properly dispose of any animals carcasses.
Thank you and happy recycling!
The Waste Reduction Team has been sorting garbage out of the recycling for almost two semesters now. There are currently five students on the team, and at least one member is sorting garbage out of the recycling every day. We have had a good volume of recycling from the campus community, but we can always handle more, so don’t be afraid to wash out those plastic food containers and add those to your recycling.
Over the course of the past semester, we have found some very strange things in some of the recycling bags we have received from both resident halls and other buildings on campus. One of our most recent discoveries was a dead squirrel in a pizza box, which is most definitely not recyclable. Other than this very unique find, we have also been coming across many half full coffee cups in the recycling. These coffee cups are not recyclable with coffee still in them, and the coffee is also soaking all of the paper in these bags. Throwing your half full coffee cups in these zero-sort bags makes it so we cannot recycle most of the contents within these bags. Also, plastic water bottles that still contain water should be poured out before placing them in the recycling bin.
Now that the Waste Reduction Team is enduring colder temperatures, it would make our job much more efficient if you could only use blue bags to put your recycling in from your resident hall. We have been sorting through all bags that are put in dorm recycling bins due to the fact that some people are not using only blue bags for recycling. As you could imagine we have found some pretty repulsive stuff searching through bags that appear to be recycling but are actually trash. We would like to kindly ask you to please make sure that what you are putting in the recycling bin is actually recyclable and will not ruin the ability to recycle whatever else may be in the recycling. Thank you!
From Waste Reduction Team Member, Tom Szabo
Recently, the Center for Campus Sustainability has hired four students as part of a new Waste Reduction Team: Zoe Plant, Grace Seltzer, Thomas Szabo, and Julie Hogan. As part of their duties, they will be assessing our current recycling and food waste systems, while developing and implementing a plan to collect and sort recycling and food waste for proper disposal. We look forward to improving our recycling and waste management efforts here at Paul Smith’s College with all of their great help!
There is a misconception on campus that we do not recycle, but we do! We have a zero-sort (Single Stream) recycling here at Paul Smith’s College. That means that all of the recycling can go in one blue bin, BUT WE HAVE TO SEPARATE TRASH AND RECYCLING.
If the central recycling dumpster is 10 % or more contaminated with non-recyclable material, then Casella Waste Services will have to throw out our entire dumpster of recycling. In order to prevent this, if our custodial workers see a recycling bin on campus that is contaminated, they will throw out the entire bag to stop it from contaminating the dumpster.
The system does not accept window glass, mirrors, light bulbs, dishes, Pyrex, ceramics, foam packaging, Styrofoam, plastic bags, recyclables that contain food waste, paint or oils, hazardous materials, or universal waste.
Plastic bags are recyclable, but they cause jams within our system, which is why we do not accept them. If you want to recycle your plastic bags, Tops Friendly Markets (located in Saranac Lake) can take them.
Recyclables that contain food waste is the main reason why many of the recycling bins become contaminated. You must rinse out all recyclable items thoroughly in order for the system to accept it.
If you are ever unsure if an item is recyclable or not, throw it in the garbage!