Pitzer to End Post-Consumer Food Composting

Kemi Richards PZ '20 cleans her plate at McConnell dining hall on Tuesday. (Ellen Duanmu • The Student Life)Pitzer College students received an email on Sept. 9 from Warren Biggins, Pitzer’s Sustainability Manager, informing them that the large compost bins in McConnell dining hall would be removed and replaced with landfill bins.

Post-consumer food waste collection for compost has been stopped at Pitzer dining halls primarily because students were not separating meats, dairy, oils, trash, and other contaminants from compostable materials. Biggins wrote in an email to TSL that Pitzer collected a total of 13,000 pounds of food for compost last semester.

Although clear signage was posted in the dining hall, “folks eating in McConnell were not willing to separate their food waste appropriately,” wrote Biggins.

This resulted in problems because the compost goes to Huerta de Valle, a community garden that does not have an industrial composting operation.

Previously, there were bins where students could sort their food waste by what was compostable and what was not, wrote Cynthia Bennington, Dining Services Manager, in an email to TSL. However, “it was brought to our attention that the post-consumer waste that was being discarded in the bins labeled for composting in McConnell was not suitable for composting at all, as it contained much more than compostable food waste."

Biggins explained that composting of pre-consumer food waste—scraps collected in the dining hall during food preparation where most of the food waste is created—would continue. 

During meal preparations, “our team would easily separate compostable waste as they were doing production for the day.  For example, fruit peelings and vegetable scraps were put directly into bins to be picked up for composting,” wrote Bennington.

The problem was brought to the attention of Pitzer staff by Huerta de Valle staff, who were not able to use the waste in its contaminated state.

Arthur Levine PZ '13 helped coordinate the twice a week food waste pick-up from Pitzer and transported it to Huerta de Valle at no cost to the college. In order to make high quality compost and avoid pest contamination, the food waste had to be strictly fruit and vegetable scraps, along with uncontaminated napkins.

Biggins wrote that he was disappointed that students were not willing to better separate their waste and that “it was a decision that had to be made to support our partners at Huerta de Valle.”

However, both Bennington and Biggins expressed their hope that collection of post-consumer waste could resume at some point in the future. Biggins wrote that it “sounded like a great opportunity for students passionate about issues of waste and composting to organize around—I’d be happy to support them.”