Tackling recycling's 'final frontier': campus composting

As waste-reduction concepts gain momentum at MSU, recycling improvements have led to record numbers of participants and support. However, an estimated three million pounds of organic, compostable campus waste is still finding its way to the landfill. The installation of MSU's Anaerobic Digester provided a sustainable alternative for dining hall trash, but a large portion of campus buildings still had no outlet for their organic waste products. That is, until Cayden Bunnell came along.

Employee at the MSU Recycling Center and nature enthusiast, Bunnell agreed to lead a pilot composting program here at MSU. In collaboration with campus organizations like the Student Organic Farm and MSU Library Environmental Committee, Bunnell organized the installation of compost bins in six buildings across campus. In addition to providing educational materials on composting to participating locations, he bikes to each site weekly to collect compost and measure the progress of the program through interaction with building occupants.

Assisted by a small bike motor and his 'team of composting microorganisms,' Bunnell takes the organic waste through the entire process by himself – from collection, to shredding, to maintenance of the compost pile and finally the application of the compost. Throughout the last year, over 3,000 pounds of compost was collected – 2,000 pounds from the MSU Library in the last three months alone. Despite the clear success and measurable landfill diversion through the pilot program, the thought of active compost bins in workspaces was not always welcomed.

There was a considerable amount of opposition from parties that worried about things like sanitation, smell and vermin – all reasonable concerns given the nature of compost. However, through a careful trial and error period, Bunnell was able to not only implement a clean, efficient system in these spaces, but also develop meaningful, strong relationships with building occupants that enabled a higher degree of excitement and involvement in this new program.

"Cayden has a natural ability to make others feel at ease and thus makes himself approachable for questions and conversation," said Susie Garmo, Administrative Assistant at the MSU Library and compost program participant. By taking the time to introduce himself and get to know people on a personal level, he invites others to try composting in a pressure-free environment. Bunnell strives to earn the respect of everyone in the building through his hard work and dedication to the project – he wants participants to talk about the progress and encourage other spaces to get involved. Ultimately, he knows that the expansion and future of the program will only be possible if people are excited about composting; it isn't something he can achieve alone.

"To me, Spartan Green means going above and beyond what anyone would expect. To not just care about waste material itself, but to make a lifestyle choice that values the people who contribute to the waste; educate yourself and those around you on the importance of doing what’s best for the environment in the most efficient way," said Bunnell on his commitment to sustainability.

As an organic process that occurs naturally, composting is the 'final frontier' of recycling, and it will be critical in cutting down on the amount of trash heading to the landfill. This is a very exciting addition to the current waste reduction efforts on campus, and it brings MSU one step closer to being truly waste-free. With a goal to gain more participation in more locations, Bunnell's warm smile and open, positive attitude are ensuring that future expansion is not only possible, it will be encouraged.

Long-term university benefits range from cost reduction in landfill waste to actual sale of the final compost product, but for now Bunnell is working to collect as much data as possible while strengthening those relationships throughout campus.

"Organic waste has lagged behind, but we CAN do something about it" said Bunnell, "Really, I'm not doing anything extraordinary – it's just a matter of creating a suitable environment for this process."

Through his hard work, that 'suitable environment' is coming to life, and though composting may not be a new idea, Bunnell's extraordinary effort is ensuring that the program doesn't just work – it takes MSU to the final frontier of sustainable waste disposal.