Composting on campus sees improvements and complications

Student misunderstandings and compost facility closure may hinder success

Alana Lajoie-O’Malley, director of the Campus Sustainability Initiative, is encouraging students to embrace reusable containers rather than disposable ones during the Take Out Without challenge. Dylan Hewlett

Already an eco-friendly campus, the University of Winnipeg has received new provincial funding to improve their green initiatives despite on-going challenges with their composting system.

Through the Waste Reduction and Pollution Prevention Fund, the province supported 21 community-based projects with $280,000 as part of Waste Reduction Week, which occurred in October.

The U of W’s Campus Sustainability Initiative, which was initially introduced in 2006, received $3,000 of the stimulus money.

“The funding that we got is partial funding for a bigger project that’s basically trying to improve the service side of garbage on campus – including waste, recycling and compost,” said Alana Lajoie-O’Malley, director of the Campus Sustainability Initiative.

The University of Winnipeg Campus Sustainability Initiative is a joint effort between students, faculty and staff to encourage everyone on campus to lead an effective lifestyle and maintain a sustainable campus and community.

Improvements include a new recycling program, which accepts more recyclable products and uses compostable take-out containers, reusable plates and cutlery for food services. 

But there is a lack of education among students.

“The biggest challenge is getting people to put the right things in the right bin – I don’t know if we’re even collecting half the amount of compost that we could be,” she said.

According to Will Ring, a representative of Ecological People in Action (ECOpia), a U of W student group that aims to educate and support topics related to sustainability on campus, putting the wrong things in the wrong bin creates a big problem.

“When compost is contaminated with non-compostables, which it often is, the bags are simply thrown away,” he said.

Ring thinks the majority of students care about composting and recycling, but do not understand the composting system.

“I think the only solution is to stress the importance of composting on campus and teach new students about it,” he said. ‘Because we have an ever-changing student population, it is imperative that education is ongoing.”

The biggest challenge is getting people to put the right things in the right bin – I don’t know if we’re even collecting half the amount of compost that we could be.

Alana Lajoie-O’Malley, director, U of W Campus Sustainability Initiative Office

Still, Lajoie-O’Malley believes that the initiatives have been working.

“We’ve composted as much so far this year as we did all year last year. So it’s definitely becoming more popular,” she said.

The U of W’s composting is managed by Samborski Garden Supplies Ltd., the only commercial composting facility in Winnipeg. 

On Sept. 6, after three years of service, the province shut down the McGillivray Boulevard location due to odour complaints from area residents.

Co-owners and brothers Lenn and John Samborski are determined to keep their operation afloat.

“We’re one of the worst city centres for recycling in North America – to not have licensed compost is shameful,” said Lenn Samborski.

He is hoping that a solution can be made in the company’s favour at the SpeakUp Winnipeg Garbage Expo, happening Nov. 13 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Currently, the Samborskis are looking to make a permanent facility on the west side of the Brady Landfill, but they are using another location on Brady Road until the situation is resolved.

Environmental enthusiasts, like Ring, are supportive and hope that Samborski can continue to maintain their commercial composting services.

“With composting alone, we can reduce our stream of waste to the dump by around 40 per cent, recycling can increase waste diversion to over 70 per cent,” Ring said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 11, 2010)

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