News & Events

UMPI receives DEP grant for food composting pilot project

The University of Maine at Presque Isle will undertake a major green initiative this academic year—turning cafeteria food waste into high quality compost for soil enrichment—after receiving a $5,650 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection through its Grants to Support Recycling and Organics Management Initiatives.

The grant project, in collaboration with UMPI’s Agricultural Science and Environmental Science and Sustainability faculty, Green Committee, Facilities crew, and campus food service vendor Sodexo, will allow the University to establish an on-campus, year-round food composting effort.

Between meals, snacks, and catered events, the cafeteria generates approximately 200 pounds of waste daily. All pre- and post-consumer food items, including meat, and napkins, will be composted as part of this project. Officials expect the project will divert an average of 1.94 tons of waste per month from the landfill waste stream, or 23.34 tons annually. Funding will support labor, supplies, and the transportation of composting materials for one year.

“We’re excited to receive this funding so that we can launch this much anticipated, year-round food composting program on our campus,” Dr. Jason Johnston, grant project lead and UMPI Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “This is going to help us not only to reduce waste but also to educate our students and others about food waste reduction.”

This particular project has been a few years in the making. Johnston worked with DEP officials over three years to plan, determine siting, and conduct a short proof of concept. He also worked with other campus members, the City of Presque Isle’s Solid Waste Manager, and Sodexo Food Services to establish a plan for the compost operation. A site was developed near Gentile Hall, consisting of a 180-foot-long by 80-foot-wide gravel base with space for several 30-yard piles of compost at different stages.

Sodexo staff received training on how to properly dispose of all organics separately from non-organics, and modified some materials—such as switching to non-bleached napkins—to maximize the compostable material that could be diverted from the refuse stream.

Under Johnston’s leadership, UMPI had an operational compost pile for about five months last year. As part of that proof-of-concept effort, he procured materials, trained and supervised students, and did a significant amount of the daily food waste movement and incorporation into the pile.

UMPI faculty will use this large-scale composting project as an educational tool for college and K-12 students, as well as other institutions, serving as an undergraduate scientific research opportunity and showcasing how others can reduce food waste and save money by instituting their own composting efforts instead of utilizing landfills.

The grant includes funding for a scale, totes, and compost screener, as well as organic materials to create the foundation for the composting site. The grant also includes funds for student workers to provide upkeep of the site.

Revenue from the sale of finished compost material will help to sustain the project going forward.

Johnston said he’s looking forward to having the composting project provide a wide range of educational opportunities for the greater community.

“While composting is better than filling up the landfill with food waste, we hope to also highlight all of the issues around food: where it comes from, its nutritional value, environmental considerations, and the fact that many of our fellow students and neighbors don’t have reliable access to healthy food,” he said.

For more information about this composting project, contact Johnston at 207-768-9652 or jason.johnston@maine.edu.