The art of composting in the residence halls

photo of compost bins
Theo Wyss-Flamm/File

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You’ve managed to wharf down two pieces of parmesan baked chicken breast, a cup of garlic cream linguine and garlic bread from the Crossroads dining hall. But alas, you’ve “forgotten” to eat the sauteed spinach and you’re full. So now it sits in your to-go container, a mashed lump. Many possibilities run through your mind: A) let it sit on your desk until the next time you leave your dorm, which might very well be your 8 a.m. in two days, B) walk down six flights of stairs to throw away the lump in your green bin waste enclosure area, C) throw the sautee out of your window for the Berkeley squirrels or D) place the lump in the small green compost bin in your dorm room. Honestly, I wouldn’t judge you that hard if you chose A or C, but B and D seem to be the most feasible and sustainable choices given. Here is an explanation of how your composting options work for the residence halls and dining halls.

The unit green bin waste enclosure area

Every dorm has waste enclosure areas inside, outside or in both areas for composting, recycling and landfill. The Residential Student Services Programs, or RSSP, advises residents to compost all paper products, food waste and compostable plastics (#7 PLA) into the green bins. This includes takeout containers and utensils from the dining hall. The RSSP recommends sorting your waste in reference to this RSSP Waste Sorting Guidelines Pamphlet

If you opt to eat at the dining halls, your food waste, along with kitchen food waste, goes into those same green bins. The food waste is put into double-lined bags to the compost area outside, taken by another source for composting. Qwanisha Stokes, a manager at the Café 3 dining halls, says that “the students here do a really good job; seeing the students take (composting) more responsibly makes us be more responsible with it as well.” 

The green compost bin in your room 

Each resident has a small green compost bin located in the dorm room for composting food waste to throw out later. In theory, this compost box is ingenious, making composting accessible through its allowance for collecting a whole day’s food waste. In practice, using this small composting box has not been easy. 

There have been countless times when my roommates and I have forgotten to take the bin to the waste enclosure area. Or … we were too lazy. Our three-day-old apple cores and vegan chicken strips, all mixed in with that sauteed spinach lump, attracted pests that bred and flew around in the compost, shooting out at my face when I opened it.

Unit 3 resident Karishma Patel hasn’t noticed any pests in her dorm compost bin. “When we eat fruits or anything else you want to discard, we just put it in the little plastic bags,” Patel noted. “We normally just take them down when it’s full.” The compostable liners can be found at your dorm building lobby. While my roommates and I haven’t used the green compost bin in our dorm room since our fruit fly experience, they are usable and sustainable for composting. We might have been doing it wrong, but I still recommend trying it out.

The residence and dining halls have come extremely far in terms of composting food waste and promoting recycling. They are currently at a 54% landfill diversion rate for zero waste, hoping to achieve a 90% landfill diversion rate in the coming years. If you prefer dining in the comfort of your own home, consider composting your food in either the green bins in the waste enclosure or small compost bins, rather than throwing it into your trash.

Contact Aurora Khatibi Garrity at [email protected].