IFSC Guest Blog Series by Andi Dierich, Environmental Coordinator for DuPage County, IL

North Central College (NCC) is a picturesque school in in the heart of downtown Naperville, Illinois. Although one of many colleges in the Chicagoland region, NCC stands out for their progressive push in the realm of sustainability. Beyond the permeable pavers, design awards for sustainability, community gardens and consistent ranking among the “top green colleges in North America,” North Central College has a successful and continually growing food scrap composting program.

Waste Management bins in a hallway with signage on the wall above them.

Creating the savings
In the fall of 2011, NCC received a grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), to begin a composting program in their central dining hall, Kaufman. The grant was a direct result of a 2011 waste audit that captured the pitching of nearly 206 pounds of food scraps daily. Not only was the food going to waste, but it was also estimated that the 3,300 gallons of water were used a day for the function of running the garbage disposal.

The potential savings of up to nearly $10,000 annually, the majority of the savings coming from the ditching the garbage disposals, was enough to move the program forward. Five years later IFSC wanted to check back in on one of the founding We Compost program members and see how things had developed.

Brittany Graham, the Sustainability Coordinator at NCC, was able to share several changes to the program including the shift from using an 8 yard trash compactor to a 2 yard trash dumpster and typical waste totes used for the food scraps. The ease of using the totes was a drastic change and better assisted in the management and amount of time dining staff, which oversee and run the food scrap collection, spends in dealing with the waste. Creative solutions included; resizing bins, adjusting the location of the collection units and adding lids were helpful touches to maintain a more visually appealing and functional scrap collection area. Other changes were made to reduce contamination by using re-usable flatware and compostable paper products. Due to overall success of the   Kaufman Dining food scrap collection the program was extended to a second food service location on campus. The new location, the White Activities Center student union, is different from the dining hall in that it has a unique set of challenges.

Three bin station including recycling, compost, and landfill bins

New locations, new challenges
The student union is home to three different chain fast food restaurants. Each chain uses their own logoed serving products. Some products are compostable, others disposable and many items are recyclable. Two stations are set-up in the Union to provide students with the ability to compost, pitch their waste and recycle. Detailed graphics have been placed above each bin to help direct students in their decisions. In the future, to avoid a potential contamination problem, Ms. Graham hopes that she can work with the chain restaurants to begin all using similar products that are compostable.

Looking to start a compost program at your location?

  • Complete a waste audit; be sure to include all things waste like the items that go down a garbage disposal!
  • Identify roadblocks or potential contamination sources and ways to solve them. Note: non-compostable or reusable material means that there is still a need for a waste receptacle.
  • Identify and include staff in the planning process that will maintain and be responsible for collection and cleaning food scrap receptacles.
  • Ensure lots of educational and instructional information is available to the users of the food scraping program.
  • Track your success! There is nothing better than being able to state how much food is composted verses actual waste.

DYK: North Central College is a Gold Partner in the We Compost program.
Gold Partner businesses demonstrate the highest level of commitment to food scrap diversion by composting both pre-consumer and post-consumer food scrap. These businesses compost all kitchen trimmings during food preparation AND compost leftover plate scraps after a dish is served to students, faculty, staff, or guests. These businesses may additionally endeavor to analyze supply vs. waste and modify procedures to reduce food waste by ordering less or differently.