Environmentally conscious students gathered in the basement of Ruggles Hall on Thursday night for Compostapalooza, a party promoting the building's composter and raising awareness about composting on campus.
The party was held in Ruggles because the dorm is the only residential building on campus that has its own composter.
But even two years after the composter—named the Rocket A500—arrived on campus, only Ruggles residents are able to use the machine, leaving other on-campus residents with few options for separating organic waste.
“We definitely would love for composting to expand in the future,” Kelly Echavarria, CC '16 and co-coordinator of EcoReps, said.
For the time being, however, Echavarria said that managing logistics and delegating responsibility pose challenges to expanding the composting program.
“[EcoReps] is working with Facilities and Housing to figure out logistics, such as who will be picking the composting up and how often they would do so, among other things,” Echavarria said.
One issue, according to Joyce Jackson, executive director of housing services, was the lack of suitable locations for another composter.
“An extensive location search was conducted when the Ruggles composter was purchased,” Jackson said. “Based on the required criteria and the previous evaluation conducted, there is not another location suitable for a composter within other residence halls at this time.”
This past summer, Housing conducted a pilot composting program in Schapiro Hall, in which residents were given composting bins in addition to standard rubbish and recycling bins.
“Now that the pilot program is over, we have to look at how to implement a similar program in a residence hall during the school year and over a longer term,” Echavarria said.
Jessica Prata, assistant vice president of environmental stewardship, said that there could also be room for Columbia's composting programs to grow as the New York City Department of Sanitation expands its organics collection. The city department currently picks up organic waste in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
“University teams hope to capitalize on opportunities and explore partnerships to divert more waste to responsible waste streams,” Prata said. “Most imminently, there is opportunity in graduate residential housing, which falls in line with the pilot requirements set by the city and also could inform the operational feasibility of expanding elsewhere on campus.”
The 2012 Ruggles composter was a cooperative effort between Columbia Composting Coalition, a subgroup of EcoReps, Columbia Housing, and Columbia Dining. It is currently operated by trained members of EcoReps.
EcoReps said that over the past two years, the composter has received an average of 25 gallons of food scraps per week. Combined with bulking agents, this amounts to about 75 gallons of compost per week. The Rocket is designed to handle 160 gallons of compost per two-week cycle.
Currently, the primary recipient of the compost is a gardening club on campus, according to Echavarria.
“If we start making more compost, we'll look for other options too,” Echavarria said.
After the initial start-up cost, woodchips, which are required as bulking agents for the composter, are the only cost for the composter. According to Echavarria, EcoReps receives the wood chips for free through a vendor that works with Facilities.
Thursday's Compostpalooza showed how limited the current composting program remains—many attendees were EcoReps members or residents in Ruggles.
But despite the challenges facing continued expansion of Columbia's composting program, Echavarria remains hopeful.
“Expanding the initiative will start slowly with one residence hall at a time just to make sure we do it right,” Echavarria said.