UI, local businesses cut costs with compost

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local businesses, restaurants, and Iowa City schools are saving money and the planet by composting their food scraps and waste through the landfill's commercial program.

The Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center offered its first commercial composting workshop at the Environmental Education Center on Sunday, in which local businesses, restaurants, and schools shared their composting-program successes and challenges with the public.

The University of Iowa has been a pioneering institution in the commercial composting program, and it has been a positive example for local businesses interested in the effort, said Jennifer Jordan, the city's recycling coordinator.

"I think it's awesome that the university is willing to spend the time, money, and resources to do the right thing and show others that they can do it, too," she said.

The UI Hillcrest Marketplace is installing a food pulper this week to replace the cafeteria's garbage disposals, said manager Fred Kurt. The pulper, as seen in the UI Hospitals and Clinics, grinds food scraps, extracts water, and produces a pulp that can more easily travel and break down into rich compost.

While the university considered machines that would produce compost instead of pulp, officials found them not cost-effective, complicated, and "over the top," Kurt said. The machines may be considered in the future at Burge Marketplace or the IMU.

In conjunction with the Office of Sustainability, the UI was awarded a Solid Waste Alternatives Program grant from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Along with a grant from the UI vice president for Research, Hillcrest Marketplace officials have received $40,000, covering the cost of the food pulper, Kurt said.

By eliminating the garbage-disposal system and installing the food pulper, Hillcrest Marketplace will save $25,000 a year in water as part of the UI 2020 Vision for sustainability.

The west dorm cafeteria serves 2,200 people a day and 24,000 meals every week. The UI composts kitchen scraps from food preparation and leftovers from food trays, Kurt said.

"The big thing we learned was to monitor food production," he said.

Burge Marketplace began composting in the fall of 2009, and the IMU started in the fall of 2011.

The UI is composting four to five times more waste than in the last five years since the program's inception, Kurt said.

"Our administration and students are behind us to do the right thing," he said.

The UI isn't the only college in Iowa composting its food waste.

Marie DeVries, a planner at Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency, said Coe College delivers its food scraps for composting.

Coe began composting food waste after a 2005 cafeteria remodeling, according to the website.

DeVries said the landfill is able to take the college's scraps because of its food pulper, which decreases odor while removing liquid, a major concern in a downtown landfill, she said.

Jordan, a self-described "compost geek," said the landfill amended its permit in 2010 to allow for more organic waste. Since then, businesses such as Bluebird Diner and the New-Pioneer Co-op have continued to compost their organic waste.

Scott Connolly, Bluebird Diner co-owner, said it is the "responsible and custodial thing to do." The diner began composting unfinished meals in January.

Scott Koepke, education and outreach coordinator for New Pioneer Co-Op, leads an education program called Soilmates. The program aims to educate local schools and children on the benefits of composting and the importance of environmental stewardship.

"We are creating life through death," he said. "Everyone needs to understand why it is important to do."

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