UK composting: From table to farm

University reducing waste in landfills
Posted at 7:10 PM, Jun 28, 2019

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18)-- — This week, the University of Kentucky took another step in their goal towards reducing their waste in landfills.

The university plans to divert 50% of their waste from landfills to being reusable products by 2022. Using a pulping machine in their kitchens on campus, they're now able to compost nearly everything students leave on their plates.

"They bring their food to the front of the line, and it comes on this conveyor belt where our staff pulls the plates off and they throw any trash into the trashcan, and then all the food waste goes into this tunnel right here that is fed into the pulper," said Carolyn Gahn, the UK Dining Services Sustainability Director. "We are able to to take most every type of food and that includes fresh produce, and scraps, to meds, and dairy, and oils."

Gahn told LEX 18 that the pulper takes all the food and makes it into small pieces and then removes the water weight. The pieces then go into their bins, and the bins go all the way to Woodford County to one of UK's research farms.

"So they add it to material that comes from this farm and it's mainly livestock betting, and it's mixed with that and then goes to the composting system where it's turned a number of times to bring in air into the pile, and then bacteria break down those materials those plant materials and manure were into a product that is the final compost product," said Dr. Mark Williams, the UK Organic Farming Unit Director.

The composting happens at UK's wind-rowing system, and in a matter of weeks, waste will be turned into something more valuable.

"What compost does is it's kind of a broken down form of carbon, it's once you put it in the soil it basically locks and carbon or sequesters carbon that would normally be released into the atmosphere," said Williams. "In many ways, this compost is a soil amendment. It increases our soil organic matter which is one of the key measurements of soil quality."

"It's a win-win in many ways it's a win for the overall planetary standpoint. It's a win for a community standpoint and just in the feels that we apply. And it helps us to be better stewards of the land," Williams told LEX 18.

Increasing the soil quality that then helps grow food on UK's research farms. It's a new program that's been in the works since 2014.

"We'll probably divert three to four tons of food waste a week through this process, so 150 to 200 tons of food waste per year, and that in and of itself is awesome, but this food waste composting program really should be situated in kind of the bigger picture of food waste and how it relates to hunger and food insecurity," said Shane Tedder, the UK Campus Sustainability Coordinator. "Beyond the campus, I think this program will really serve as proof of concept. That composting can work, can be cost-effective with landfilling. And then for a student, it's an educational opportunity that they'll take with them when they leave."

The university is hoping that the composting program will allow them to start moving 25% of their waste to the farm for composting or other recycling outlets.