Composting and Campers @ Chatham University

By Leslie Ekstrand, General Manager at Chatham University

Here at Parkhurst Dining Services at Chatham University, we are always searching for ways to lessen our carbon footprint and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.  Four years ago we started a before and after consumer composting program in our main dining hall.  Both our staff and students were concerned about the extra steps that it would take to deal with the garbage.  To make things easier, we purchased garbage cans and liners in different colors for each kind of waste:  yellow for compostable, blue for recyclable and black for trash.  In the dining hall we have a station that explains what is and is not compostable and in the back of the house we have explanatory posters.

We also had training sessions with our staff and posted a staff member by the breakdown station to educate the students.  To everyone’s surprise, after a week or so, everyone was on the program.  Since then, the upperclass women teach the new ones as they come in each year and we only have to train new staff members as they join our team.  This year we added one of our retail venues and are looking to expand to the others in the fall.

So, what about the campers in the title?  Each summer Chatham has a Music and Arts Day Camp for children from the ages of 4 to 14.  We were really puzzled on how to involve them in composting and to make them understand how to do it.

Group of Music and Art Day Campers

First we had to explain why.  For the little ones, we explain that the extra food and paper goods from their lunches gets turned into food for the trees, shrubs and gardens that they see around them on campus.  We don’t get too technical and only answer the questions that they ask.  Actually, this also works for the older ones since for the most part they have learned about this in some form in school and start out with a better understanding.   With them, if they ask, we explain more fully about how the food is picked up by an external composter (AgRecycle) and the process of composting.  For the most part, the tweens and teens aren’t really that interested and just follow the plan because that is what they are supposed to do.

Then we had to show them how.  Because some of the little ones are preliterate, we use photographs of what should be thrown in each garbage can.

Photographs are used at the garbage cans for the little ones.

We also designated one garbage can for lunches from home since they typically don’t contain any items that are compostable.  A staff member from the Day Camp is on hand in the garbage area to make sure that everything goes in the correct place.  Since many of the counselors are Chatham students, they already know the drill and require little additional training.

A staff member from the Day Camp is on hand in the garbage area.

It has been a great success and we continue to divert 4-5 tons of food and paper waste per week out of the sewage or landfill and into reusable compost.

One of the campers examining the signs and garbage cans.

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