A terrible thing to waste: disposing of your leftovers

The dirty details of Syracuse University's dining hall waste and where food scraps go.

New compost bins in the dining centers around campus put Syracuse University high on the list of sustainable universities, said Assistant Director of Food Services Mark Tewksbury.

The dining halls installed them during spring break. Now there are compost bins in the disposal areas for students finishing their meals.

“We’ve had a trash removal service since the beginning of time here,” Tewksbury said. “We thought if we could divert anything from the waste stream, it would be better than sending it to the incinerator.”

Photo: Lorne Fultonberg
The goal of the new dining hall bins is to minimize the amount of sorting done behind the scenes and limit the amount of waste sent to the landfill.

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Now, rather than only having trash receptacles, there are specified areas for napkins, trash, paper recycling and compostable goods. Waste is immediately dropped in special red bins where it is eventually taken to the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency’s Amboy Compost Site where it is made available for public use.

For Tewksbury, the benefits are seemingly limitless. It takes some of the pressure off of his dish room staff, fits in with the university’s dedication to sustainability and reduces the weight of its garbage, which saves SU money. Plus, the university gets to take back some of the compost material and use it for some of its gardens.

“Since we already had those trash areas out front, we thought renovating them a little bit would make life a lot easier and allow students to help us out with this process,” Tewksbury said.

Members of the dining hall staff said the student response has been largely positive.

“When you get kids involved, I think they feel more appreciated,” said Bernard Brumfield, a supervisor at Ernie Davis Dining Center. “Now they recognize that we're doing something to help the environment, not just taking stuff and throwing it away.”

Thursday afternoon, most students at Ernie Davis appeared to make some sort of effort to sort their waste – though some more than others. The main complaint students had was that the process was too confusing.

“It’s a pain in the ass,” said Danya DeMeo, a sophomore psychology and biology dual major.

The students interviewed who didn’t sort their food didn’t seem to realize they were doing anything incorrectly. They sent their trays down the conveyor belt, where Tewksbury said, things get sorted either way.

“We’ve been doing it for years, students just didn’t necessarily know because we’ve been doing it behind the scenes,” he said.

The University has been composting in its current state for nearly three years, Tewksbury said. Years before that, SU composted through a private company. Now, the university transports its own waste twice a week using its own bins, which saves a significant amount of money, said Greg Gelewski, Recycling Operations Manager at OCRRA.

Gelewski said although students are typically the worst culprits of putting non-compostable items in compost bins, SU students are above average.

“The SU loads are phenomenally clean,” he said. “Syracuse University is setting a higher standard for the community. It’s raising the bar.”

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