Machine turns food waste into soil nutrient
The food waste decomposer in the recycling and composting center in Statler Commissary, North Campus, looks like a giant, stainless steel oven. The imposing machine is an alchemist of sorts, transforming everyday refuse—onion skins, egg shells, chicken bones, bell pepper tops, baked goods, coffee grinds, banana peels—into a rich, brown soil amendment gardeners can use to fertilize their plots.
The apparatus, which traveled to Buffalo from South Korea, arrived at the university this fall, adding to Campus Dining & Shops’ (CDS) arsenal of tools for “greening” its operations. Initial estimates indicate that composting kept more than 115,000 pounds of trash out of landfills between June 2009 and Jan. 1. The recycling of plastic, metal, cardboard, office paper, glass and toner cartridges cut out another 288,000 pounds of garbage.
“Why are we doing it? We think it’s the right thing to do, and if somebody doesn’t start down that path, like they say, nobody’s going to do it…We decided that we want to be proactive,” says commissary manager Tom Ludtka, who emphasizes that CDS’ initiatives are just a small part of UB’s larger effort to promote sustainability.
“What we try to tell everybody is that we believe in what we do, and it takes small steps by everyone to get the green job done,” Ludtka says. “I tell everybody who comes through on a tour, one voice is just a whisper. A hundred voices is a song.”
The new decomposer and composting in general are among the newest features of CDS’ environmental campaign. The organic fertilizer the machine creates is available for anyone at UB or in the community who requests it. (Broken down poultry bones, which contain slow-release calcium and phosphorus, make for a particularly rich additive, Ludtka says.) CDS also works with University Facilities to maintain two large composting piles in Beane Lot, North Campus, that produce soil the university uses in garden beds on campuses.
Ludtka says that although CDS began composting about five years ago, it was only over the past two years that administrators created and implemented a comprehensive plan for all campus food service centers to partake in the process. Now, employees in all UB dining areas place compostable goods in plastic buckets—airtight and made from recycled material—that workers ship to Statler each day.
Prior to purchasing the decomposer, which sanitizes waste, employees threw away all “post-consumer” food, including leftovers. For health reasons, only items that customers had not touched, such as vegetable scraps in kitchens, could be composted.
The new machine, along with the elimination of trays in dining halls, has led to a dramatic reduction in the amount of garbage UB produces. Trash from the Red Jacket Dining Center in the Ellicott Complex now fills three or four 90-gallon totes per day, for instance, down from 15 or 16 of those same receptacles not long ago.
And CDS is not stopping there. Ludtka says that when it comes to such disposables as plates and utensils, the unit is looking to buy more biodegradable items—cutlery made from material such as potato starch and soy oil instead of plastic, for instance. Ludtka and his colleagues are even exploring ways to offset carbon emissions associated with the electricity they use to run everything from their unit’s Web site to the decomposer, which uses about $13 worth of power each day.
To request a portion of the organic fertilizer that the decomposer produces, contact Ludtka at 645-2832.