The Environmental Protection Association (EPA) has recognized Keene State College as the number one school in the nation for increasing food waste diversion efforts. Keene State is the National Winner of the 2019 EPA Food Recovery Challenge Award: Data Driven Improvement by Sector in the Colleges/Universities Category. 

This means that KSC has been recognized for its expansion of the food waste composting program on campus that started with the dining commons in 2018 and then the student center in 2019. These changes drastically decreased the amount of wasted food entering landfills.

According to the EPA’s website, participants do not apply for these awards.hey are given based on the information submitted in the SMM (Sustainable Materials Management) Data Management System and are based on percent changes comparing an organization’s data to the previous year’s data.

Recycling Coordinator Matthew Bacon said this honor is largely due to the college’s composting efforts. 

“We are the EPA’s national winner for colleges and universities and that’s recognizing the biggest data-driven improvement by category, which is an accomplished category. We managed to basically double our compost numbers from 2017 to 2018 and the EPA is recognizing us for that work,” Bacon said. 

Director of Campus Sustainability Cary Gaunt said that composting and waste diversion is an important issue and KSC hopes to be a leader in that effort. 

“This is a huge accomplishment for KSC. For one, it is a great honor to win a national award that highlights the commitment of KSC in making a big change in the way we manage our waste,” Gaunt said. “The college desires to be a local, regional and national leader in teaching and demonstrating sustainability/climate responsibility through tangible actions. We’ve done that by starting and then dramatically increasing the food waste composting program. It is important because we are showing leadership that others can learn from, but it is also important because it is a community-wide effort. It takes everybody, students, faculty, staff and administrative leadership, to be mindful of scraping plates into the compost bins instead of tossing the waste into the trash can. This is so important because our food waste, the leftover scraps, paper napkins, paper coffee cups, even meat scraps and chicken bones, can be composted and turned into a usable product that helps gardens grow. We use the compost right here on our campus.”

Keene State’s on-campus compost capabilities have vastly improved over the last few years. 

“In December 2017 we put in the expansion for composting in the dining commons in the back of house,” Bacon said. “Prior to that, we were only able to compost vegetable waste. Now we can compost any organic waste, so anything from napkins, tea bags, coffee stirs to milk cartons, meat, dairy, any food plate scrapings, stuff like that. We’ve been expanding that program outward.”

In 2019 these compost bins moved into the student center and public usage was also added. Paper compost bins also started moving into residence halls where pizza boxes, coffee cups, milk cartons and other products could be disposed of so they would avoid ending up in landfills. The goal is to move full food waste collection into residence halls within the next year. 

Although composting is helpful, it is not the only way that KSC hopes to divert food waste. 

“The second roadway is waste minimization because although composting all this food waste is great because it’s staying out of the landfill, it’s still hundreds of tons of waste a year,” Bacon said. “Food waste is a huge player in contributing to climate change and global carbon emissions. We would obviously love to minimize food waste as well alongside having compost expansion happening.”

The Office of Sustainability has a number of other upcoming projects in the works.

“Our biggest upcoming initiative is a project called the Sustainability and Energy Services Contract (SESCO),” Gaunt said. “To meet the KSC goals of becoming powered 100 percent by renewables by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2050, KSC with the help of Siemens Industry Inc., will be working on a significant campus energy transformation,” Gaunt said. “This project has just started, but it will involve all kinds of opportunities from lighting and other building upgrades designed to save energy to providing opportunities for students to support the project as interns. We will also be expanding the composting program all around campus—it is an essential part of our plan to be certified as a Zero Waste Campus by 2030. The Office of Sustainability will also start offering more workshops and other educational programs for the KSC and broader City of Keene community next year. There is even talk about a summer camp.”

More information on this award can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners

More information on the Sustainability Office and their efforts can be found at: https://www.keene.edu/office/sustain/.

 

Rachel Vitello can be contacted at

rvitello@kscequinox.com