Six students in Professor Joe Regenstein’s Agriculture and Life Sciences 4470: Environmental Stewardship in the Cornell Community are investigating Collegetown composting for their class project. The group is composed of six juniors and seniors, led by Kristen Vitro ’11.“[Composting in Collegetown] is something I’ve been interested in working on for a few years now,” said Vitro, who highlighted the value of getting academic credit and support for the project instead of doing it on her own.
The course is a general CALS class open to all students and was started by a science of natural and environmental systems student interested in finishing her major with a project. As SNES grew, so did the class. The class is centered on an individual or group project and is considered the capstone SNES course.
The members group knew they wanted to promote composting in Collegetown, but were unsure of their project’s scope. Composting is common for permanent residents, but it is harder for students, who are often unaware of the resources available to them and change residences annually. Moreover, apartments presented too many logistical issues for the group in regards to education and collection. They decided to focus on restaurants.
The Compost Initiative for Collegetown Eateries tries to help businesses with sustainable waste-management practices, linking Collegetown restaurants with Cayuga Compost. “We decided to focus on restaurants because it made a lot more sense for a short term project,” said group member Rachel Perlman ’12. The group started taking to a variety of restaurants, but narrowed down their list to six contenders.
Logistical barriers to restaurant composting include the cost of curbside pickup since only recycling is free in Tompkins County. “We’re in a pay-as-you-throw county,” said Vitro, meaning restaurant owners are responsible for their own waste. A reduction in trash offers landlords a financial benefit because they pay less for bags of rubbish.
Space is a huge obstacle for eateries in Collegtown since so many tenants share small spaces. Cayuga Compost uses 60-gallone tote bins, which are difficult to place. If food preparation requires a move upstairs, the bins have to be moved in the early hours of the morning to avoid foot traffic.
So far, Collegetown Bagels, Starbucks and Mexeo have been receptive to composting. One of the restaurants the Compost Initiative for Collegetown Eateries works with even has a pig that consumes compostable waste. Starbucks supports composting as a national policy. Mexeo uses reusable dishware for consumers, and supports back of the house composting. CTB composts at all locations, including Ithaca Bakery, and composts at the front of the house, in addition to the back of the house (pre-consumer waste). Front of the house composting is often more difficult because it requires training clientele as opposed to a fixed number of employees. For CTB, “the majority of their clients understood what could and could not go in the bin,” said Vitro.
The Compost Initiative for Collegetown encourage restaurants to look into the ReBusiness Partnership Program which offers assistance, free waste assessment, and s 50% subsidy of compost pickup upon successful completion of the assessment. “Some people don’t really understand what compost is or how easy or difficult it is,” said Vitro. For many restaurants, it’s not an issue of training employees, but putting out buckets. The group has had difficulty getting in touch and following-through with managers.
The infrastructure for composting in Collegetown exists and the group hopes to keep helping restaurants access pre-existing programs and support.