AU forced to change composting practices, use more energy

The Office of Sustainability’s composting efforts hit a roadblock when AU’s composter was mandated to stop accepting food waste in December for “fail[ing] to contain the foul liquid leaching out of the organic matter it was [composting],” said Lydia DePillis in her March 7 article in the Washington City Paper.

The Maryland Department of the Environment “tightened environmental regulations on composters to protect the Chesapeake Bay from contaminated groundwater,” DePillis said.

AU composter Recycle Green “told us that effective immediately, they have been told they were no longer able to accept food waste for composting after notice from the Maryland Department of the Environment,” said Helen Lee, the Office of Sustainability’s zero-waste coordinator.

Following the announcement, the Office of Sustainability contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment for help locating another facility in the D.C. area, Lee said.

AU was told the nearest composter accepting food waste was the Peninsula Compost Group in Delaware, Lee said.

After searching for other possible alternatives, including incineration facilities and landfills, the Office of Sustainability decided to send the University’s food waste to Delaware to maintain zero-waste, Lee said.

AU adopted a zero-waste policy in 2010 that planned to divert 100 percent of the University’s waste from landfills, according to AU’s Recycling, Composting and Waste Web page.

AU is now shipping seven to eight tons of food waste to Peninsula Compost Group each week, Lee said.

“Our current waste hauler now picks up our food waste to a transfer facility which is then carpooled with other food waste from this region and taken to Delaware,” Lee said.

AU is leaving a larger footprint now that it has to ship food waste to Delaware, but it is still a lesser footprint than if the waste were incinerated or placed in landfills, Lee said.

However, she said she is looking into sending AU’s composting to a pulper to reduce emissions caused by transporting the material.

“Pulpers reduce approximately 80 percent of the weight of food waste, and it would allow [AU] to save a lot of money on hauling and composting,” Lee said. “I am trying to find out the feasibility of composting on site, but I’m only at the research phase.”

Composting food waste on AU’s 86-acre campus is currently not possible because of lack of space, pest control and odor, according to Lee.

AU’s Zero-Waste status has not changed despite AU’s change in composting.

“We’re really hoping a composting facility will open closer to us soon so we don’t have to haul our waste to Delaware,” Lee said.

Recycle Green is still accepting AU’s yard and paper towel waste.

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