University of Waterloo Department of Environment and Resource Studies

Evaluation of Composting Programs on Campus

Prepared by: Rhonda Fetterly
Shari Fox
Heidi Gjertsen
Ramsey Hart
Jill Thompson

Table of Contents


1.0 Introduction 2.0 System Study 3.0 Criteria for Effective Composting 4.0 Methodology 5.0 Minota Hagey 6.0 ES Coffee Shop 7.0 WPIRG 8.0 General Discussion 9.0 Summary of Recommendations



The purpose of the 1994 ERS 285 Evaluation of Composting Programs on Campus was to evaluate the composting activities at Minota Hagey, WPIRG and the Environmental Studies (ES) Coffee Shop. Questionnaires and interviews were conducted with users and key actors in each composting system. Temperature, moisture, and pH readings were taken over a period of three weeks to determine if the composters were functioning effectively. Using the data gathered, several problem areas were identified. Cold winter temperatures resulted in the freezing of compost piles, which caused the waste to accumulate and fill the composters. Once the composters were full, the collection of compost material was terminated. Poor technical management of the compost piles may have played a role in the low efficiency of the compost system.

More frequent turning, addition of soil or peat, changing the location, and increasing the number of composters from 2 to 4 are recommended for the ES Coffee Shop. The Minota Hagey composters should be moved as well. An increase in the capacity of Minota Hageys composters will also be required if the system is to function over the winter. At present, the WPIRG vermicomposting program is operating well, but there is concern that this may not continue given that no structured management system is in place. A lower maintenance vermicomposting system has been suggested for use at WPIRG.

The association of rats with the composters was of great concern for many people involved with the programs. Although there is no conclusive evidence that composters contribute to rat populations, it is recommended that efforts be taken to rat-proof all outdoor composters.

Due to the difficulties experienced in the operation of the present composting programs, there is an apparent need for better management of the systems. It is recommended that domestic sized composters not be used at locations with greater amounts of food waste than at Minota Hagey Residence. The University should investigate options for a centralized form of food waste diversion for the larger residences and food services outlets. Vermicomposting, or other small scale systems, such as those presently in use, are recommended for areas where a large quantity of food waste is not created, as in administrative offices.

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Sustainability

The purpose of Watgreen projects is to work towards sustainability on campus. Sustainability and sustainable development have been defined in a variety of ways. A possible definition of sustainability in the context of the University campus is:
Sustainability is the perpetuity of the campus ecosystem and its ability to support a diversity of life and functions, the foremost being education, without compromising the natural dynamics and evolutionary processes of the earth.

Fundamental to this vision of sustainability is the process of cycling. The campus should be seen as a point where various biotic and abiotic resources, including paper, waste materials, human resources, and information continually cycle. Wherever possible, cycles should be maintained within the campus system, closing the loop, in order to avoid the development of externalities. However, since the campus does not exist in isolation, it is also of fundamental importance to recognise the interface of the campus cycles with the natural and social environments. Whenever cycles extend beyond the campus boundary, it is essential to follow the principles of sustainability.

A practical example of the concept of cycling is the composting of organic material on campus. Composting is a means of closing a portion of our waste stream. Keeping organic wastes on campus reduces waste output, and the organic resource (compost) can be re-used on campus as a soil conditioner in flower beds and lawns. In attempting to map the campus-wide waste system, it was realised that the present composting programs are the only streams where food waste is dealt with on campus. Composting also requires active participation by faculty, staff, and students and can be used as a tool for education on waste issues.

The system on which this project will focus is the University of Waterloos composting program for food wastes, a subsystem within the larger campus waste system. The subsystem consists of three compost programs which are already underway at Minota Hagey Residence, WPIRG, and the Environmental Studies Coffee Shop.

The history of composting on the University campus goes back twenty years, with the composting of leaves by Plant Operations. More recent projects have focused their effort on establishing the composting of food waste. Three WATGREEN projects have been completed to date which are of particular relevance to this study because of their contributions to the establishment and maintenance of composting programs on the UW campus.

These projects are as follows:

i) Feasibility Study for a Composting Pilot Project (Chapman et al., 1990)
ii) Minota Hagey Composting Pilot Project (Chapman et al., 1991)
iii) Feasibility Study of Composting at St. Jeromes and St. Pauls Colleges (Arsenault et al., 1992).

The two projects undertaken by Chapman et al. have resulted in a composting program at Minota Hagey residence which is still in operation. The third project (Arsenault et al.) has yet to be implemented, but individuals on staff at St. Jeromes College are currently looking into the possibility of initiating a composting program beginning in the summer of 1994, based on the work of these students (See Appendix A for a more detailed description of these projects).

Students within the Environmental Studies faculty identified a need for a composter at the Coffee Shop in ES1, and a composting program is presently in operation. The office of the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) is presently using a vermicomposter for the diversion of small amounts of food wastes. This project is the first effort in evaluating the existing programs within the context of a campus-wide composting program.

The University administration has always been very supportive of composting on campus. As stated, Plant Operations has been composting leaves for over twenty years, and when the students involved with the aforementioned Watgreen projects presented their ideas of composting to the administration, they were given full support. The administration is very interested in finding a way to remove food waste from the University waste stream, since it would diminish the amount of waste output and thus reduce the cost from tipping fees. In addition to supporting campus composting programs, the administration has tried to find other ways to eliminate food waste from the system. One possibility that is still being explored is to sell the food waste to a local pig farmer.

1.2 Project Rationale

The diversion of food waste from landfill sites will be an integral part of the campus devotion to sustainability. This will require faculty, staff, and students who are compost literate, and who are willing and able to participate in the program to divert food waste. At the time of this study, it was uncertain whether existing programs had been a success and whether or not they offered examples of how a campus-wide system could function. In order to answer these questions, an evaluation of existing programs was necessary. Recently, serious problems and concerns have been identified regarding the composting programs which may threaten their continuation. The observation of rats near the composters was a key issue which could result in the removal of the composters from the campus, if not resolved. The goal of this project is to identify present barriers to the effective and continuous operation of the present programs and to provide solutions and suggestions for improvement.

The lessons learned in the evaluation of these small-scale pilot projects will aid in the development of a larger campus-wide system. The development of such a system has great potential to significantly reduce our impact on the regional environment, thus enhancing the sustainability of the campus, through the recycling of materials, the reduction of material going into landfill sites, and a reduction in the need for chemical fertilizers. There is also the potential for sizeable economic savings through the reduction of tipping fees paid for the disposal of waste from campus. Most importantly, however at this institution of higher learning, is the opportunity for more members of the UW population to learn to perceive their organic wastes as a potential asset, harbouring valuable nutrients which are essential to the continued cycling of the earths finite resources.

1.3 Views of UW Administration

There is no question that the University administration is in support of composting. As stated, Plant Operations has been composting leaves for at least twenty years, and the composting initiative at Minota Hagey Residence in 1991 was readily supported. It is no surprise that the administration is also concerned with saving money, and that finding an efficient way to cycle food waste is of interest to them, since it would greatly diminish the Universitys waste output. This reduction in the amount of food waste being hauled away results in a decrease in the money paid to the landfills in tipping fees .

At present, the tipping fees paid by the University are $90.00 per tonne of garbage (including the food waste). Currently, an average of 170 tonnes of garbage is removed each month from campus, and 18.43% (31.33 tonnes) of this mass is food waste (Cook, pers. comm. March 24, 1994). Simple arithmetic reveals that:

$90.00 / tonne of waste in tipping fees X 31.33 tonnes of food waste per month
= $2819.79 in tipping fees per month

When this number is multiplied by 12 (months per year), we discover that the average annual tipping costs for food waste at the University is $33,837.48. In addition to this, a service fee of $4660.00 per month is paid to a waste disposal company, Laidlaw Corp., to empty the 83 garbage hoppers on campus. If the food waste could be composted instead of hauled away to the landfill, there may be a potential for monetary savings by the University.

As mentioned, the University administration was very supportive of the composting initiative at the Minota Hagey residence in 1991. However, the problems related with the present composting systems is cause for concern to the administration. The main mandate of Plant Operations, a division of the University administration, is to keep the campus running smoothly and looking presentable. A composting system which attracted pests, or was aesthetically unpleasant, would not be accepted or allowed to continue.

Bob Elliott, Associate Provost of the University, states that although the University is supportive of composting on campus, it is also concerned about appearance, and Plant Operations will not tolerate composting that is messy (Elliott, pers comm., March 24, 1994) As of yet, Mr. Elliott has not received any complaints about rats or composting problems at his level. However, grounds people do check the composters, and if there is continued evidence that they are not being operated properly, or if there are any complaints made, they will have no choice but to discontinue the program. Mr. Elliott also commented that this would be very unfortunate and embarrassing, since administration has supported the program for over two years now, and it is still not being managed correctly.

Administration is attempting to find a way to remove food waste from the main waste stream. A proposal was made to donate the food waste to a local pig farmer, but it was discovered that a legal barrier was present. Administration is very intent on finding a way to dispose of food waste separately, but thus far, it has been very difficult to find a legal and cost effective way to do so.

2.0 System Study

In a complex project such as this, a first step is to identify the various aspects of the system and establish boundaries. A diagram of the composting system is shown in Figure 1. For the purposes of this project, the boundaries of the system have been established as the people and processes presently or potentially involved in the Minota Hagey, ES and WPIRG composting programs.

The various inputs and outputs into the composting program have been divided into 3 flows: economic; organic; and communication and education. One extraneous flow is the interaction of pests with the composters. This flow is not considered desirable and if the system is running successfully, should not be present.

Another criterion for success is that the running of the system is cost-effective, such that the initial costs and operating costs are covered by the savings created through the reduction of waste sent to the landfill. The efficient decomposition of the food waste into a high quality compost and the use of this compost are other measures of a successful system. The detailed criteria for maintaining an efficient organic flow are outlined in section 3.

In order for the composting systems to function effectively, participation from the people who generate food waste is required. Communication and education are necessary to inform people involved with the program on correct use and maintenance of the system, and to generate participation. Once participants become involved in a composting program, it is hoped that they will have greater consideration for waste issues, and a greater understanding of the potential and importance of recycling.

The following have been identified as actors or stakeholders in the program:

A variety of perspectives regarding the composting program were encountered from the actors involved. The perspective of this report is that composting is a necessary contribution to responsible waste management on campus. This perspective is shared by many of the people who use the composters. As stated earlier, the UW administration considers the monetary savings involved with waste reduction as an advantage. However, it was discovered that some people felt that composters are a nuisance, which demand unwarranted effort to maintain. For example, the observation of rats near the composters has created a perception that composters are a health risk.

2.1 Functioning of the Minota Hagey Composting System

Composting at Minota Hagey began in the spring of 1991, with the Minota Hagey Pilot Project. The program is still underway and it functions as follows (Vardy, pers. comm. March 29, 1994).

At the beginning of each term, the Don (supervisor of residence) of the residence holds a house meeting, at which one of the topics is composting. At this meeting, the composting system is explained and students are asked to volunteer as co-ordinators .There is usually a 50% turnout of residents at the meeting.

The co-ordinators post sign-up sheets for emptying the food waste receptacles each week. Volunteers are given instruction sheets with a list of people to contact if the volunteer has questions. At the end of each day, the volunteers empty the contents of the kitchen receptacles into the outside composters and add peat to the mixture. The material in the composters is turned on Sunday and Wednesday each week. There is a compost receptacle in each of the two kitchens and four composters outside the building. Signs are posted above the receptacles to indicate which materials can or cannot be composted. Copies of the original Composting Guide from the Minota Hagey Composting Pilot Project (Chapman et al, 1991) are available to the residents in the kitchens and front entrance.

The four SoilSaver Mark IVģ composters were donated to Minota Hagey by Barclay Recycling for the Pilot Project and peat is supplied by Plant Operations through Patti Cook, so the only cost for Minota Hagey are the kitchen receptacles, which must be changed occasionally. The composting program currently operates from the spring thaw until Christmas each year.

2.2 Functioning of the ES Coffee Shop Composting System

The ES Coffee Shop is a small eating/lounge area in ES1 that overlooks the Dorney Garden. It seats approximately 75 people and is serviced by a small staff who sell simple food items such as bagels, sandwiches, and cookies over the counter. The present composting system in the ES Coffee Shop has been operating since August of 1993. Compostable food waste is collected in a 6L plastic bucket from the sitting area in the Coffee Shop, and coffee grounds are collected from the serving area. Once a day during the week, these receptacles are emptied into the composters. There are two SoilSaverģ composters in use, which were donated by Larry Lamb, a staff member in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES). Although initially located in the Dorney Garden, the two composters were moved to the north-west corner of the ES1 building, next to the parking lot/loading area (Cratt, pers. comm., March 14, 1994).

The Coffee Shop employs a Waste Management Facilitator who is responsible for managing the composting systems and overseeing the collection of recyclable materials within the ES buildings. During this study, the compost management process involved emptying the receptacles every day and turning the compost approximately once a week. The present salary of the Waste Management Facilitator is $30.00 per week and this figure represents the only expense incurred in the set up and maintenance of the system.

When soil conditioner is available from the composters, it is used in the Dorney Garden outside the ES1 building. This task was last performed in September by Leanne Cratt, the Waste Management Facilitator for the 93/94 academic year.

Education of Coffee Shop patrons with respect to composting and the new system occurred during the initial stages of the program. Posters were placed near the receptacle in the sitting area, announcing the new program and listing compostable waste items. A list of dos and donts still remains above the composter in the eating area.

2.3 Functioning of the WPIRG Vermicomposting System

The Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) is a student-funded, student-run non-profit organization located in the General Services Complex at the University of Waterloo. The mandate of the organization is to pursue environmental and social change through research, education and action. In the autumn of 1993, the Board of Directors of WPIRG decided that WPIRG should have a composter in the office to reduce waste and to educate visitors to the office about alternatives to waste production. The organization purchased a batch of red wiggler worms and set up a home-made vermicomposter in their office. The composter is situated in a discreet corner of the office along with several recycling bins. It is used by staff and volunteers, who also encourage other visitors to the office to dispose of their compostable food waste in the vermicomposter. Education regarding the existence of the bin and the proper use of it, is limited to these personal interactions. Currently, there is no system in place to ensure the proper maintenance of the composter, nor have any arrangements been made for the use of the finished compost (worm castings). However, the composter appears to be working relatively well (Vieregge, pers. comm. March 10, 1994)

3.0 Criteria for Effective Composting

3.1 Initial Set-Up

One of the criteria for a successful composting program is an initial set-up of the composter. This includes a favourable location and a sound structural design. Some of the following suggestions were obtained from The Canadian Green Consumer Guide (Pollution Probe, 1990).

Location: Organic material will decompose more rapidly when it is warm. Therefore, a composter on the South side of a building, exposed to adequate sunlight would be ideal. The composter should be easily accessible, for the convenience of those that must manage it, but far enough away from buildings to avoid the possibility of pest and odour problems near the buildings.

Design: Composters can be hand-made or purchased ready-made, but in both cases, a good design is essential. The bin should be about 1m square(minimum), and 1 to 1.6m high. It should not be smaller, since the small amount of material may not generate enough heat inside to decompose the material efficiently. If it is too large, the volume may cause the material on the bottom to become compressed, and as a result, the oxygen required will be squeezed out.

Getting Started: One aspect to starting a composting program is to have an estimate of how many people will be using the composting system. This can be determined by surveys in order to decide how many composters will be needed. It is also important to have the bottom of the composter open and dug into the ground to allow for organisms in the soil to aid in the decomposition process. There should be easy access into the composter to be able to turn the material over regularly (i.e., a lid). To begin the composting process, a layer of coarse compost should be added. This includes small branches, straw, or grass cuttings that can go on the bottom of the composter (there should be bricks or two-by-fours at the bottom of the composter to allow air between the compost and the ground). After this layer, soil, rotted manure, or seaweed should be added to initiate the decomposition process. Then, kitchen waste can be added.

3.2 Use, Management and Monitoring

Ingredients: Proper ingredients are one of the most important factors to making a composter work successfully. Kitchen waste, yard waste, and soil are the main ingredients of a composter, and should be added in layers. Any green waste, such as fruit cores, vegetable tops, etc., are acceptable. Other acceptable materials include coffee grounds, tea leaves, eggshells, scraps of paper (such as coffee filters or tea bags), seafood shells, etc.

Waste that is not acceptable for composters includes plastics, glass, foil or metals. Also, to avoid foul odour and animal visitors, fish, meat, grease and oil, bones, and dairy products should never be added.

For a more complete list of items which cannot be composted see Appendix B.

Once waste is put into the composter, it must be monitored carefully. There should be a combination of green and brown material. Green includes vegetable matter and most kitchen waste, while brown is represented by peat, straw, soil, and even hair. The addition of both these types of material provide the necessary mixture of nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus to keep the decomposition rate high.

Maintenance: If the composter is maintained properly, the speed of decomposition can be rapid (approximately two to four weeks). Proper maintenance includes turning the material regularly, removing finished compost, and maintaining ideal moisture and temperature conditions.

It is important to turn the compost regularly. This should be done with a pitchfork or shovel every two or three days to keep it aerated and cooking evenly. The compost should also be turned as much as possible when adding new layers. The finished product should be removed promptly to allow for new compost to form.

The speed of decomposition depends on how much air and moisture gets into the bin. If the compost material is cooking properly, it will give off steam and heat, thus providing its own moisture. This, however, should still be monitored since more water might be needed. If the compost is too wet, the bin will smell and dry grass, leaves or straw should be added. If the composter is too dry, it will not decompose very quickly, and water should be added.

A good indicator as to whether things are working properly is by temperature. Once the composter is well started, the temperature inside (about 25 to 30 cm down from the top) should rise from 40įC to between 60 and 70įC, as decomposition starts the compost cooking. It is ready for use when the temperature falls back to about 40 to 45įC.

A common problem cited with composters is odour, which can be compounded by the insects and animals which odours may attract. Remedies to alleviate odours are suggested in Appendix B. However, if composters are maintained properly (i.e. all steps above are carried out), there should not be a problem with odour. If there is no problem with odour then there should not be any means to attract animals and pests.

Rats, squirrels and other creatures may accidentally stumble upon the composter, but if it is being turned regularly, they will not nest, and they will move on. Methods of discouraging animal visitors are discussed in Appendix B.

3.3 End-Product

Finished compost looks like rich soil and crumbles in your hand. It is dark-coloured and smells earthy. There should be no distinguishable materials, except for perhaps bits of eggshell and twigs. This product is called a soil conditioner, rather than a fertilizer. It makes fertilizer nutrients available to the plants at a slower rate for a longer period of time, and it can neutralize acidic soil. Composting can be done all year round. In the summer, the end product can be used in gardens, on lawns and around trees. In the fall it can serve as an excellent mulch, and in the winter as a soil conditioner for indoor plants. If maintained correctly, composting can be a fun and rewarding activity at any time of the year!

3.4 Communication and Education

Another component of a successful composting system is a properly educated participant base. It must be communicated to potential participants that the program exists and is available for their use. Secondly, they should have some concept of why they should compost so that they will be more willing to do so and thirdly, they must be educated as to how to compost properly so that the appropriate materials are put into the compost receptacle and the composters are maintained properly.

4.0 Methodology

A variety of methods were used in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the composting systems. These include both quantitative and qualitative measurements. In particular, the organic flow and the communication and education flows were studied.

4.1 Technical Component (Organic flow)

In an effort to evaluate the flow of organic materials through the compost systems, a series of measurements were taken over a 3 week period. The measurements temperature, moisture and pH were taken and recorded twice a week. One problem identified was that both outside composter locations consisted of frozen compost. Since the two outside composters remained frozen for the entire study period, the results are of questionable value. The methodology and results of these tests can be found in Appendix C.

The amount of food waste being diverted to the compost system, by weight, was measured at both the ES Coffee Shop and WPIRG. (No food waste is presently being composted at Minota Hagey.) At the ES Coffee Shop, the compostables were weighed three times a week for three weeks. Measurements were taken using the receptacles and a fish scale. The weight of the receptacle was then subtracted from the overall weight. At WPIRG, the amount of food waste was small enough that the total amount collected over the study period was weighed at the completion of the study period. These weights were used to estimate the economic savings resulting from composting efforts at these locations.

Qualitative observations at the composters were made at the same time as the above quantitative measurements. In particular, contents of the composters, evidence of animal visitation, odour, and local weather conditions were noted.

4.2 Communication and Education

In order to evaluate the aspects of participant (or potential participant ) education, questionnaires were distributed at the ES Coffee Shop and Minota Hagey Residence. Two versions of the questionnaires were developed, one for Minota Hagey and the other for ES. These can be found in Appendices D and E. The purposes of the questionnaire were:
  1. To gauge the level of use of the composters
  2. To gauge the level of education among participants, regarding the proper use of the composters.
  3. To determine whether a lack of composting education is a problem withthe composting systems.
Questionnaires were not circulated at WPIRG, due to the small number of people who use this facility on a given day. A chart to monitor the use of the use of the vermicomposter was used instead (see Appendix F).

4.2.1 Description and explanation of questionaires

The following section is a detailed rational for the questions asked in the survey of Minota Hagey residents and people using the ES Coffee Shop. Surveys were created with the specific location in mind and so some questions are worded differently for Minota Hagey and ES. Where this is the case the exact wording for both questions given. In all cases the reasons for asking the questions apply to both Minota Hagey and ES.

Q.1 Please check the term which applies to you: (Faculty, Staff, Student, Other)
This question was asked to determine who the potential, and actual users of the composters are. If further education is required, knowing to whom it should be directed would be an essential component of its success.

Q.2 How long have you been frequenting the ES Coffee Shop? (less than 6 months, more than 6 months, less than 1 year, more than 1 year, more than 2 years)
How long have you been living at Minota Hagey Residence? (...)

This question was intended to provide information which would enable us to determine whether or not the length of time an individual had been at one of the composting locations affected their knowledge and awareness of the system. This however was not possible given the narrow distribution of respondents between categories, an analysis of this type would not have been valid.

Q.3 How often do you eat in the ES Coffee Shop? (Number of times per week; Never, 1-3, 4-5, 5-7, More than 7)
How often do you prepare meals in the kitchens at Minota Hagey? ( )

This question, combined with question 6, provided information regarding the frequency of use, or potential use of the composters. A better understanding of the use of the flows of people through these areas will be beneficial in adapting the composting system to each location.

Q.4 Are you aware that there is a composting program at the ES Coffee Shop? (no, yes)
Are you aware that there is a composting program at Minota Hagey? (no, yes)

This question was asked to gauge the general awareness of respondents. Various levels of awareness were gauged to determine if education on particular aspects of the systems were required.

Q.5 Do you know where the compost receptacle is located (ie.. where to put your compostable food waste)? If yes please specify.
As in question 4, question 5 gauges the awareness of participants but at a more specific level. Respondents were asked to specify where the receptacle was in order to determine whether respondents were correct or not.

Q.6 If you use the Coffee Shop food composter, how often? (always, often, occasionally, rarely, never) If you use the Minota Hagey composter, how often? (...) See question 3.

Q.7 Out of the following materials please check all items which you think are compostable. (egg shells, meat scraps, gum, dairy products, hair, lobster shells, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cooking oil, coffee filters, coffee grounds, peach pit, carrot peelings, chicken bones )
Again this question was used to asses the knowledge of the respondents regarding the composting systems except that here the emphasis was on determining whether respondents knew ‘how’ to separate compostables from non-compostables. The knowledge of what can be composted is important because the only role of the majority of participants is depositing compostables in the receptacle.

Q. 8 Please explain briefly why you do or do not compost.
Question 8 was used to assess participant awareness of the benefits of composting. This could have implications for the degree of motivation which can be maintained not only to compost but to do it well.

Q.9 Do you know what the finished product (compost) from the ES Coffee Shop composter is used for? If yes, please specify. (no/yes)
Do you know what the finished product (compost) from Minota Hagey composters is used for? If yes, please specify. (no/yes)

As in question 8, this question was intended to gauge the level of awareness of the benefits of composting except that this question focused on the use of the end product to show whether or not participants were aware of the full cycle of the process. Awareness of the cycle is important both in material terms (i.e. the organic flow) and in terms of fostering non-linear thinking patterns. One of the educational benefits of composting should be an awareness of the cyclical (or least non-linear) nature of natural processes.

Q.10 Do you know who oversees the ES Coffee Shop composting program and/or who you should go to if you have questions or concerns? If yes please specify who they are. (no/yes)
Do you know who oversees the Minota Hagey composting program and/or who you should go to if you have questions or concerns? If yes please specify who they are. (no/yes)

This question is also about participant awareness and to determine whether more efforts should be made to let participants know where they can direct their questions. It is important that participants know where they can go if they have questions in order to ensure that the program is used properly. Again, respondents were asked to specify who this person is in order to ensure that they were correct.

Q.11 Have you composted, or are you presently composting somewhere other than the ES Coffee Shop? If yes where?
Have you composted, or are you presently composting somewhere other than at Minota Hagey Residence? If yes where?

The intent of question 11 was to determine whether the knowledge of participants regarding composting processes was a result of their exposure to UW composting programs. Also, it was determined that the value of a UW composting education would be of greater importance if this was the only place where participants were exposed to this experience.

Q.12 General Comments: (i.e. problems encountered, do you like the program, etc.)
The purpose of this question was to allow the respondents an opportunity to add their own comments and feedback on the composting programs.

4.2.2 Minota Hagey Residence

The Minota Hagey Residence has a population of 74 residents. Given this fixed population size, an appropriate sample size was determined using the formula:
(z * z)(N)

where 'z' is the z-value for a given confidence level, and 'N' is the total number of potential participants in the program. The chosen 'z' value is 1.7 which gives a confidence level of approximately 90%. Using this formula, 33 was found to be a statistically valid sample size.

The questionnaires were distributed to every person who entered either of the two kitchen areas within the residence. Willing participants were handed a questionnaire and asked to fill it out while they cooked, or before leaving the kitchen/dining area. The surveyors collected the completed questionnaires from the participants.

This process was completed in one session on March 22, from 5:00 pm until 7:30 pm. The sample was taken at dinner time, so that an adequate number of participants could be found. During this time the necessary 33 questionnaires were completed.

4.2.3 ES. Coffee Shop

Due to the setting of the Coffee Shop, it was extremely difficult to obtain an approximation of the population. There are no records of the number of people who enter the coffee shop, and although a rough estimate could be obtained by examining sales of muffins, coffee, etc. This would not include the large number of people who use the sitting area to eat their brown bag lunch. As a result, an appropriate sample size was determined through consultation with people experienced in the field (Ferguson, pers comm. Feb. 16, 1994). A sample size of 50 to 60 was found to be large enough to avoid statistical errors of variation. At the ES. Coffee Shop, an interval technique was used and the questionnaires were distributed to every third person who entered the Coffee Shop. Willing participants were handed a questionnaire and asked to fill it out before leaving. In the case that the third person did not wish to complete the questionnaire, each person following him/her was asked until a willing participant was found. An envelope was placed in a visible location on the Coffee Shop door for finished questionnaires and the surveyors ensured that questionnaires were deposited in the envelope before the participants left.

This process was completed in one session on March 22, beginning at 9:30 am and continuing until 1:30 pm. A total of 63 responses were collected.

4.2.4 WPIRG

It was decided that due to the infrequency with which volunteers and visitors go to the WPIRG office, it would be prohibitively difficult to circulate enough questionnaires to conduct a valid survey of the people who have access to the vermicomposter in the office. In lieu of a formal survey, therefore, a list was posted for the duration of the study period (3 weeks) and users of the vermicomposter were asked to record what they were depositing in the composter. The purpose of this was to determine whether the people using the composter were aware of which materials were suitable to compost.

Participants of the WPIRG composting system were also asked to indicate on the record sheet whether it was the first time they had used the composter since the beginning of the study (Appendix F). Using this information, it was possible to determine how many different people had used the composter over the course of the study period.

5.0 Minota Hagey

5.1 Results

Observations of the contents in three of the four composters at Minota Hagey revealed that the material was not particularly rich, but still fairly composted matter, which upon thawing, could be used as a soil conditioner on the Minota Hagey gardens. The fourth composter, which was most recently in use, contained food waste still in its original state. At this location, a strong odour was detected.

5.1.1 Surveys

On March 22, 1994, between the hours of 5:00 and 7:30 pm, a survey was conducted at Minota Hagey Residence to determine how the composting program at that location was being used and by whom. Thirty-three questionnaires were handed out and all were returned. One person declined to take the survey. Results of the questionnaire are contained and compiled in Appendix G. Please refer to Appendix D for a sample questionnaire.

The users of the Minota Hagey composters are all graduate students, as these are the only residents of the building. There was a wide range of responses to Question 2, regarding the length of time which the respondent had been living at the residence. Five people responded that they had been at the residence for 6 months or less, which may mean that they had not been at Minota Hagey while the composting program was operational.

The level of use of the composters (when in operation) appears to be quite high, with 29 out of 33 of the respondents indicating in question 3 that they prepare food in the Minota Hagey kitchens once to twice a day and 26 people responding in question 6 that they use the composter either always or often.

In general, the level of knowledge regarding the composting program was quite good. All but one person indicated that they were aware that there is a composting program and knew where the composting receptacle was located (questions 4 and 5). Results of question 7 show that knowledge of which materials can or cannot be composted at Minota Hagey was fair with a mean score of 9.9 materials correctly identified out of 13. A comparison between the scores of respondents who have not composted elsewhere and those who have, showed a surprising result. People who have only composted at Minota Hagey had an average score of 10.27 while those with experience composting at home or elsewhere had a lower average score, at 9.27. Incorrect responses were more often due to an unawareness that certain materials (i.e. hair, lobster shells) could be composted, rather than a belief that non-compostables (i.e. meat scraps) should be composted. However, comments on the questionnaires suggested that there is a problem with plastics and food contaminants being put into the compost receptacles.

Twenty-two of the 33 respondents indicated in question 9 that they did not know what the finished product (compost) is used for. Eleven residents responded in question 10 that they were not aware of who the overseers of the program are, or who they could approach with questions. Finally, 22 of the respondents indicated in question 11 that they had not composted elsewhere.

Regarding question 8, varying responses were given as to why or why not the residents choose to compost. Please see Figures 2 and 3 for a breakdown of these reasons.

General comments regarding the program at Minota Hagey were mixed but were predominantly positive. Please refer to Table 1 for a summary of the comments made.

5.1.2 Personal Interview with Sheila Vardy, Don of Minota Hagey

According to Sheila Vardy, there are two main problems with the Minota Hagey compost system. Firstly, many materials which should not be composted are being found in the receptacles. These items mostly include plastic wrap, aluminium foil, and the occasional chicken bone. One of the reasons for this may be the large number of international students at the residence who have difficulty understanding the English posters of what can or cannot be composted. A resident is currently working on posters which use graphics to address this problem. Sheila Vardy recommends that the composting system be limited to simple items, such as fruits and vegetables, which everyone will understand. Secondly, the composters are near the building door, and if there are rodents near or in the composters, they may enter the residence.

The problem of pests is one which Ms. Vardy addressed. She has never observed any rats near the composter but she has seen animal tracks in the area and found that an animal had entered the side door of the composter and burrowed a tunnel through the compost material. Last year, a groundsperson saw a rat near the composter, although later accounts revealed that about twenty rats were seen. Many skunks have been seen recently around the building. About once every two years, cockroaches are found in the kitchens. All these events may or may not be related to the composters and the residents are becoming concerned about the potential problem. In any case, Sheila Vardy recommends that the composters be animal-proofed and moved away from the buildings. She also suggests that items such as bread, which attract animals, be discouraged.

According to Sheila Vardy, there are no problems of odour unless the volunteers forget to empty the receptacles, or on hot summer days. Peat alleviates the odour problem in the composters. There are no problems of overflowing, although Ms. Vardy feels there would be if the residence composted in winter. The composters are of an appropriate size and number, but Sheila Vardy would consider alternative designs, if they were more efficient and cost-effective.

Overall, the residents are quite enthusiastic about the composting program and are disappointed to see it disappear in the winter. Almost everyone who uses the kitchen uses the composters and this is reflected by the fact that not many compostables are found in the garbage bins.

5.2 Discussion

5.2.1 Winter Composting

One of the most obvious problems with the Minota Hagey composting program is that it does not operate in the winter months. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that much organic waste is being unnecessarily landfilled. According to the study by Chapman et al., approximately 4.7 kg of compostable waste are generated at Minota Hagey daily (Chapman et al, 1991). Secondly, much of the educational value of composting is being lost, as winter semester residents do not gain exposure to the composting process until the end of their term. The disruption in the composting routine makes it difficult for the students to form habits which they will maintain when they leave the residence. Difficulties with winter composting do exist but it is not impossible to undertake (see section 8.3).

5.2.2 Location

Another key problem which was observed with the Minota Hagey composting program is that the composters are situated on cement bricks. As soon as the ground thaws, it is recommended that the composters be moved off the blocks and dug six inches into the ground. This will allow for micro-organisms in the ground to access the contents of the composter and aid in the decomposition process. Furthermore, the composters should be moved from their present location to the south-facing wall below the stairs, to ensure that adequate sunlight penetrates the composters. This would add the heat necessary for the decomposition process.5.2.3 Pests

The possible presence of pests at the Minota Hagey composters is a reasonable cause of concern. Although it is questionable whether there is an actual pest problem, it is imperative that caution be exercised and the composters be animal-proofed immediately. This may be accomplished by following the suggestion in section 8.2, and as has been recommended, the composters should be moved away from the doors.

5.2.4 Communication and Education

The survey result showing that individuals who had only composted at Minota Hagey were, on average, better at distinguishing compostable materials from non-compostable materials might be an indicator that the education provided at Minota Hagey is fairly good. In any case, the average score on question 7 was quite high for both groups of people, indicating that knowledge of what materials can be composted should not be a problem.

The fact that errors made in identifying compostable materials were more often made ‘on the side of caution’ indicates that although some compostable materials may be entering the waste stream, there should not be many contaminants in the composters. From the comments made by Sheila Vardy and by some of the residents, however, it appears that there is a large problem with incorrect materials being placed in the composters. This may be due to the fact that the list of compostables which is presented to the students is unclear and many have difficulty understanding it. This may be remedied by a better system of classification and explanation of compostables, or reducing what can enter the composters to simple materials. In any case, it appears that some education may be necessary. It is also possible, of course, that the students are aware of what can and cannot be composted but are too apathetic or lazy to take the time to sort their waste properly.

It is interesting that the majority of respondents to the questionnaire did not know what the finished compost was used for and this may be the reason for a certain degree of apathy towards the system. If residents were confident that their efforts were resulting in a good end product, and that this end product was being used on campus, they might be more careful to use the composter appropriately.

5.2.5 Limitations

It should be noted that the results from the moisture analysis would indicate a problem of inadequate moisture levels inside the composters. However, this may be due to the fact that samples were obtained from the materials at the top of the composters and not from the bottom, where the moisture would drain out. This could also represent an error in measurement or calculations, since the material in the composters actually appeared to be quite moist. Therefore, one should be hesitant about attempting to resolve a moisture problem, when it may in fact be non-existent.

Given that the composting system was not in operation at the time of the survey, due to winter cancellation, the results obtained in this survey may differ somewhat from those that would be obtained at another time of year, when residents would be actively participating in the program. There may also be a slight bias in the results as the five respondents who have lived at Minota Hagey for less than 6 months may not yet have been exposed to the composting program and their responses would therefore be irrelevant to Minota Hagey operations.

6.0 ES Coffee Shop

6.1 Results

General observations at the site revealed animal tracks belonging to the local squirrels. The material in the composters at this site was not decomposing, due to the freezing temperatures and lack of proper maintenance. This resulted in a spilling-over of the material, creating an unsightly display (see Appendix K). The average weight of material emptied into the composters per day, over the three week study period was 7.7 kg (see Table 2). Multiplied over the 20 days a month the Coffee Shop is open, the monthly average is 154 kg. With the cost of waste disposal at $0.23 per kg., including the proportion of Laidlaw’s service fee, the monthly savings are $35.42

6.1.1 Surveys

On March 22, 1994, a survey of people entering the ES Coffee Shop was conducted. Seventy questionnaires were distributed, following the methodology outlined in section 4.2.2. Sixty three of these questionnaires were returned, giving a return rate of 90% (The complete data for the survey can be found in Appendix H).

Fifty five of the 63 respondents, 87%, were students. Of the other respondents, 5 were staff (8%), 2 faculty (3%), and one post doctorate fellow. Seventy seven percent of the respondents had been frequenting the ES Coffee Shop for more than one year and 22% had been frequenting the Coffee Shop for less than one year. Slightly less then half, 46%, of the respondents were found to use the Coffee Shop once to three times per week and 48% of the respondents use the Coffee Shop more than three times per week.

Participation of respondents in the compost programs was found to be quite low. Fifty percent of respondents answered that they never used the composter, and another 14% rarely used the composter. The 38 reasons cited for not composting were categorized into five groups and are presented in Figure 4. The principal reason cited was that people did not have compostable waste to compost. Many people only come through the Coffee Shop to buy coffee and snacks which produce little compostable waste, except for wax muffin wrappers. Lack of facilities within Environmental Studies and at individual residences was the second most cited reason for not composting. A total of 39 reasons to compost were categorized and are presented in Figure 5. Reducing waste was the most common response. The use of compost as a soil conditioner was second and includes reasons such as “is good for the garden”, and “produces humus”.

Despite the low participation in the ES composting program, general awareness of the program was found to be high with 87% of respondents answering yes to Question 4: Are you aware that there is a composting program in place at the ES Coffee Shop? Question 7 on the survey asked respondents to identify items which could be composted from a list of 13. The average score was found to be 9.5 of a possible 13. Common items which were incorrectly identified as compostable were: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and meat scraps. Compostable items which were commonly missed included hair, and lobster shells.

The level of knowledge about composting can in part be attributed to participation of respondents in composting at other locations. Thirty three of 60 respondents, 55%, composted at home. The average score on question 7, which required that the participant identify compostable materials, was 10.1 correct responses out of 13, 1.5 points higher than the average for respondents who did not compost elsewhere.

The level of specific knowledge of the program was found to be much lower than the general awareness. For example, only 76% of respondents could specify where the receptacle for compostables was located. Awareness of the complete system and how the final product is used was very low. Eighteen people were able to provide an answer, but 10 of these answers were very general, i.e.. as fertilizer. Of the 8 people that identified the Dorney Garden (not all by name), 6 were guessing, as indicated by question marks or phrases such as “I would guess...” or “I’m assuming...”. Even fewer people, 4 of 59 respondents, were able to identify the people responsible for the maintenance and management of the program.

The final question of the survey solicited general comments from respondents. Thirty five people made comments, and because some made several, a total of 48 comments were received. Two distinct categories with numerous comments were found; comments requesting more information or increased visibility of the program, and general positive comments. There were 19, or 54% of all comments made, which were of the first category. 16 comments were made which were general positive comments, these include “I like it”, “Good program”, etc. Three comments were received regarding expansion of composting to other areas on campus. The complete list of comments is given in Table 3, with the frequency of each comment.

6.1.2 Personal Interview with Leanne Cratt

On Thursday, March 14, 1994, an informal interview was conducted with Leanne Cratt, a fourth year Environment and Resource Studies student with the position of Waste Management Facilitator for the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Initial contact with Ms. Cratt had been established earlier in the year, and this interview was used to clarify and expand upon certain aspects of the program. Some of the information gathered in this interview regarding the functioning of the system has been incorporated into earlier sections of this report. The subjective analysis of the program by Leanne Cratt is presented in the following text.

In the opinion of Ms. Cratt, the composting system is widely supported and has a good participation rate. She noted that the management and staff of the Coffee Shop were particularly supportive of the program. Although Leanne Cratt felt patron participation was good, she suggested that “it could be better”. A more prominent location for the receptacle was suggested as a means to improve participation. Posters announcing the program and a list of compostables had been posted initially but have since been removed.

In the process of moving the composters from the Dorney Garden to the north west corner of ES2, the presence of rats within one of the composters was observed. On this occasion, 3 rats were noticed, as were tracks around the composters. This was the first occasion on which Leanne Cratt saw rats at or in the composter, although she had noticed them in the garden previously. Since moving the composter, no signs of animals have been reported.

The lack of space and a slow or absent rate of decomposition were also identified as serious problems. Over the winter, the material placed within the compost did not degrade and by the time of the interview, the composters were filled to capacity. It was decided that collection of compostable waste would be stopped until an additional composter could be found and started correctly, along with moving the existing composters from their present location.

6.2 Discussion

The ES Coffee Shop composting program has been actively maintained since it’s establishment in the fall of 1993. However, several problems have been identified which must be addressed for the program to continue functioning. The most pressing of these problems are technical in nature, relating to the processes of composting. Other problems include low participation and lack of knowledge regarding the functioning of the system. The technical problems must be given priority since without a properly functioning system, educational benefits can not occur.

6.2.1 Aesthetics

The most apparent of these problems is the fact that despite relatively low participation in the program, the composters are full and the collection of compostable waste has been halted temporarily. The excessive amount of material in the composters has resulted in uncomposted material spilling over from the top and bottom creating an unsightly mess. Not only does there need to be more space to allow the continued collection of compostable waste but the overflowing composters threatens to label composting as messy and dirty. This perception could threaten the present and future composting programs as campus aesthetics is a major concern of the University administration. It has been suggested that in their present location and condition, the ES composters are at risk of being removed (Bob Elliott, pers. comm., March 24, 1994).

6.2.2 Efficiency

Contributing to the amount of undecomposed material in the composters is the observed slow rate of decomposition. This is primarily due to the cold winter temperatures prior to the study, however, several technical weaknesses with the present system are contributing to the problem. Although decomposition will occur, even with very little maintenance, the large volume of materials in the composters requires that the system be operating at the maximum possible efficiency.

Hindering the efficiency of the composters is their location on the north side of ES2. The composters are not exposed to adequate sunlight, and as heat is an essential part of the composting process, this could slow the rate of decomposition, particularly during the colder months. A suitable location must be found that is exposed to sunlight, yet protected from harsh winds and excessive moisture (Campbell, 1975).

Another reason contributing to poor rate of decomposition is the lack of aeration. It is suggested that turning the pile be done every 3 days in order to maintain proper oxygen levels for aerobic decomposition.

6.2.3 Ingredients

A problem unique to the Coffee Shop is the enormous amount of coffee grounds added to the composter. These coffee grounds cause the compost heap to be slightly acidic. Adding a buffer such as lime would neutralize the acidity. Adding a simple bulking agent such as leaves, peat moss or soil would also decrease the effect of low pH. The addition of one or a combination of these is recommended as the part of any composting system, in order to introduce micro-organisms which aid in the decomposition process and prevent the heap from compacting. At present, no such material is being added to the ES composters.

6.2.4 Pests

The presence of rats within the composters brings about another technical problem which must be addressed. Although rats have been present outside the ES buildings for at least 15 years, long before the composting program began, the composters are providing shelter and a new food source. Removing the composters from their present location near the Dorney Garden, where the rats find shelter and food from the bird feeder, will decrease the likelihood of rats entering the composters. To ensure that this does not occur, the other steps outlined in section 8.2 should be followed.

6.2.5 Solutions

To address these technical problems, a number of changes must be made to the present system and should be done as soon as the ground thaws, so that composting can continue without any further delay.

The composters must be moved from their present location. An alternative site that the composters could be moved to is the south side of the building where there is more sunlight and less human traffic. When moved, the composters must be dug approximately 6” into the ground. The addition of a bulking agent, and the turning of each heap should occur at least three times a week. The necessary materials could be acquired from Plant Operations through Patti Cook and from the remainders in the garbage pail beside the composters.

Given that the composters are now at capacity, without the addition of soil, peat or leaves, there is a definite need for more composters to increase capacity. Two additional composters would provide adequate space to store compostables over the winter if the heaps were to freeze.

Once the technical aspects of the ES Coffee Shop composting program are mastered, a greater effort towards informing users and potential users is needed to fulfil the educational component of the system. General awareness about the system is sufficient, but specific information regarding the workings of the program (i.e. who is in charge and what is done with the final product) is required. Although many of the Coffee Shop patrons compost, or have composted elsewhere, for 40% of the patrons questioned, the ES composting program is the only exposure to composting. For this reason, it is important that accurate, useful information be posted regarding the program and composting, so as to encourage people to try composting at the Coffee Shop and elsewhere.


7.1 Results

Upon completion of testing it was noted that the composted material was of a rich, dark nature, and was ready for use. On March 27, the vermicomposter was emptied and new bedding was set for the worms. Excellent, black soil was produced and will be used by volunteers of WPIRG. Since the worms had bred and reproduced, some of worms were separated and are being used to set up new vermicomposters for use by staff and volunteers in their homes. Altogether, the mass of material composted during the study period weighed less than 150 grams. The amount of money to be saved by this composting program is negligible, but this is outweighed by the educational value of the program for WPIRG.

7.1.1 Survey

The results of the WPIRG study show that in 3 weeks, 8 different people reported depositing food into the compost receptacle and all of these materials were compostable. Table 4 lists the items which were composted during the study period, as indicated by the people who deposited them.

7.1.2 Personal Interview with Linda Vieregge

Linda Vieregge, research co-ordinator of WPIRG, expressed concern that the vermicomposter is not being properly maintained or monitored. Although it was initially decided that members of the Board of Directors of WPIRG would oversee the operation of the vermicomposter, experience has shown that this is impractical. The Board members are volunteers and most are also full-time students, so it is difficult for them to be in the office for a sufficient amount of time to observe how the composter is being used and when it requires maintenance. Currently, staff, volunteers and visitors at the WPIRG add their compostables to the vermicomposter on an ad hoc basis. Often, the composter contains too much food and the worms are unable to digest it all. If someone (usually Linda) notices this, a sign is posted and people are asked to deposit their compostables in ice cream tubs, which are located next to the composter. When the worms have digested most of the material in the composter, materials from the ice cream tub are added. However, the material in the ice cream tubs often turns mouldy before the worms are ready to digest it and there is some uncertainty as to whether or not mouldy materials are harmful to the worms.7.2 Discussion

7.2.1 Efficiency

The vermicomposter at WPIRG is fairly successful and has produced its first batch of rich organic soil. However, as worms are living organisms, the lack of maintenance of the vermicomposter is a valid concern. The offices of the Region of Peel have a vermicomposting system in place which requires very low maintenance and is proving to be quite successful. Janet Joynt, who is currently employed by the Region of Peel, explained that they use four vermicomposters in their offices, rotating them every 3-4 days so that only two composters are being used at one time. Once a sufficient amount of food has been deposited in those two composters, they are left undisturbed for a few days so that the worms can find and digest the food. In the meantime, the two other composters are put out in the main office to collect food wastes (Janet Joynt, pers. comm. March 18, 1994). This system could be modified to serve WPIRG’s needs by using two vermicomposting bins and alternating them in a manner similar to that used in the Peel offices. This was recommended to Linda Vieregge at WPIRG and it is likely that a second vermicomposter will be added to the system within the month.

7.2.2 Communication and Education

Once a second vermicomposter is brought on stream, WPIRG should make some attempts to inform people that a composting system is in place, and invite them to ‘feed the worms’. The vermicomposting system could prove to be an excellent educational tool for WPIRG visitors and volunteers, demonstrating how the nutrients contained in organic wastes can be cycled back into living systems. Since one of the mandates of WPIRG is to encourage education about environmental issues, this would be a logical progression in the development of their composting system.

8.0 General Discussion

The most significant finding of this study is that there is a notable difference between perceived and real problems with the composting programs on campus. This project was initiated primarily because of a concern that rats were infesting the composters and that the composters therefore required rat-proofing. However, this study has revealed that this and other current difficulties are merely symptoms of more fundamental weaknesses in the composting systems at UW. The existing programs are incomplete, lacking adequate arrangements for the collection and use of finished compost; an effective means of educating participants about the benefits derived from their efforts; and perhaps most significantly, suitable maintenance practices. A more systematic, cyclical approach to composting is imperative to ensure that the multiple benefits of composting are not jeopardized.

8.1 Maintenance Systems

After three weeks of testing and monitoring the campus composting programs, several problems were identified which were a result of improper or inadequate maintenance and monitoring. At the time of testing and monitoring, most of the composters were frozen, which made the testing very difficult. However, through observation and interviews with those who maintain the composters, there is evidence of neglect regarding several factors of composter maintenance including: regular turning of the contents of the composters; addition of bulking agents; periodically emptying the composter of finished soil conditioner; and careful monitoring of the program so that problems are avoided or addressed.

The people responsible for managing the composters should set up a system or schedule to encourage high levels of participation in the composting system and to ensure that proper maintenance regimes, are adhered to. This would make the composting much easier and more efficient. In some cases, this will require the time and efforts of a crew of dedicated volunteers. However, the educational and environmental rewards warrant such dedication.

8.2 Deterring Pests

According to sources around the University, including Larry Lamb, Ecology Lab Technician in Environmental Studies, rats have been on campus for at least fifteen to twenty years (Lamb, pers. comm., March 17, 1994). However, since the initiation of composting programs, there has been a plentiful, available food source, and rats may have become more abundant and more visible. Students and staff have spotted rats around the ES building, near the bird feeder in the Dorney Garden and around all of the outdoor composters. If administration of the University receives complaints of a rat problem, they claim that there would be no choice but to shut the composting programs down. The composters are probably not the cause of rats on campus, but because of the poor upkeep of the composters, the rats have been able to get into them to eat and nest.

Due to the destructive nature of rats (to wires, buildings, etc.) and their potential for rapid population growth, the administration insists that the rats must be controlled. Larry Lamb has stated that once the rats are eliminated, or trapped and relocated, they will not return (Lamb, pers. comm. March 17, 1994). Once the rats are removed from the area, however, it will be very important to make the composters “rodent resistant”, to prevent rats or any other animals from regaining entry into the composters. The most appropriate way to make a composter “rodent resistant”, is to line the inside of the composter with a heavy gauge wire mesh. The most appropriate is 16 gauge (Abell Pest Control, pers. comm. April 13, 1994). Paul Taylor, President of Compost Management of Elora, (Ontario) gives a step-by-step process of how to make a composter rodent resistant:

  1. Remove all compost material from inside of the composter;
  2. Line the inside of the composter with the heavy gauge "chicken wire". The wire must cover all sides of the inside of the composter, including the bottom and under the lid;
  3. It is important that the lid fits securely on the composter and there are latches to hold it down so as to prevent it from being opened by wind or squirrels.
  4. Refill the composter and start over, making sure it is properly maintained.
If the composters are maintained properly, none of these efforts should be necessary, since there will be no attracting odour, and if the material is turned often enough, animals will not enter to nest. As stated, however, to remain on the side of caution, the composters should be animal-proofed.

Another suggestion to make the composters rodent resistant is to change the design of the composters altogether. The new design could be that of the Rotating Barrel Composter (see Appendix M). This type of composter is ideal for the size of the ES Coffee Shop and Minota Hagey waste output. This composter is raised off the ground, which may make it more difficult for animals to get into. It is easier to maintain because of its unique turning mechanism, and it is simple and inexpensive to build. A final option for rodent control that was suggested at a meeting regarding the rat problem on campus on January 26, 1994, is to set up speakers around the composters and Dorney Garden that produce a certain radio frequency, which is undesirable to rats. This idea is still being tested to determine if it will have any effect on the other animals on campus.

8.3 Winter Composting

One problem, which was identified at both of the outdoor composters, is that the contents of the composters freeze in the winter, resulting in the cancellation of composting efforts during these months. Although difficulties do exist, composting is possible in the winter. The decomposition rate decreases considerably in the colder weather, however, food waste can still be disposed of in the composters. According to Paul Taylor, the composting system set up at Minota Hagey and ES is a “primitive system”, and composting efficiently in winter is not feasible (Paul Taylor, pers. comm., March 17, 1994) Due to the small size of the SoilSaver® composters currently in use, there is not enough heat generated from the decomposition process in the winter to prevent it from freezing. In addition, as there is no one available to turn the compost during the Christmas holidays, they inevitably freeze and it is very difficult to get them back into operation before the spring.

One solution to this problem might be to have more composters available in the winter time, in which food waste could be stored until the spring thaw. This is the method currently employed at Trent University where ‘reserve’ composters are set up specifically to store organic materials over the winter. These composters are then left to ‘cook’ over the spring and summer months and are emptied again before the next winter (Smith, pers. comm. March 23, 1994)

Another suggestion is the use of larger composting vessels which can generate enough heat to prevent winter freezing. The Rotating Barrel design, as discussed above, could also help to fight the winter freeze.

8.4 Potential for Expansion

The outdoor composters involved in this evaluation were SoilSaver Mark IV® composters, manufactured by Barclay Recycling Inc. These composters are small and intended for residential or other small-capacity use. They are not practical to use for locations with large quantities of food waste.

Despite this fact, St. Jerome’s College has plans to begin a composting program using several SoilSavers®. This may be a result of the conclusions made by the feasibility study conducted in 1992 (Arsenault et al.). There are, however, serious flaws within this study which drastically underestimate the number of composters required, and hence the effort necessary to maintain the system. The study found that St. Jerome’s generated approximately 289 litres of food waste a week and a SoilSaver® only holds 170 litres. In less then two weeks the two composters recommended for St. Jerome’s would be beyond capacity. The study also neglected to consider the problems associated with winter composting and the capacity required to do so was not considered. This is not to say that composting at St. Jerome’s is not feasible but only that it will require a much larger composting unit, such as a three bin system, and far more effort put into maintenance than was initially suggested.

A large three bin system would not provide enough capacity for the larger residences, or the many food service outlets. Campus-wide composting, therefore, requires an alternative system. One of the concepts that was developed as an option for a campus-wide composting program is centralised composting. This would demand that the University engage the services of either a waste management company which is willing and able to handle organic waste, or a separate body set up by the University to do so, since it would be such a large task and too time-consuming for University Plant Operations. Under a centralised composting system, all of the compostable food waste would be collected by the individual cafeterias and residences on campus. This would then be picked up and transported to the central composting area by the designated body.

The central composting area itself should consist of industrial sized composters. Due to their large size, decomposition would produce high temperatures and composting could be done with equal efficiency through the winter. Large amounts of compost would be produced, which ideally would replace the fertilizer that is presently used on the campus grounds by Plant Operations.

Centralised composting is an advantage, since all of the composting is done in one area, allowing for the processes to be closely monitored and maintained. It ensures that composting is carried out properly and regularly, since staff members would monitor the process, and a schedule would be in place. Furthermore, a centralised composting system could make people more aware of issues concerning food waste, since they would be required to throw away their food waste in separate containers. An educational element is implicit in this endeavour, since the entire University population would be involved in the new system. Finally, the University itself could gain a great deal of publicity for its commitment to such a large-scale environmental endeavour.

The disadvantage to such a system is the elimination of small, hands-on composting projects. Although students would likely be aware of the centralised composting system, they would not have the opportunity to observe the whole decomposition process, in which their own food waste is transformed into valuable soil conditioner. If centralised composting is implemented, any small-scale composting programs which are working well should be strongly encouraged to keep their composting operations, however, the rest of the campus without composting initiatives already in place should be expected to use the centralised system.

Other suggestions for operating an effective centralised composting system are as follows:

9.0 Summary of Recommendations

The problems that exist with the present composting system are mainly due to improper maintenance of the composters. Given the present state of the ES and Minota Hagey composters, it is understandable that UW Administration is concerned. If people wish to continue composting, it is essential that they commit to doing it well. Participants and overseers, whether employed or volunteer, must accept responsibility for the maintenance of the program. They must become more aware of how to compost properly, how to use the end product and how to monitor the health of the program. A schedule is recommended to ensure that the tasks are carried out regularly and correctly.

The following is a summary of the most pressing changes that must be made as soon as possible in order for the outdoor composting programs to continue operating;


Abell Pest Control, pers. comm., April 13, 1994.

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Arsenault, S. Lyle, Tracy Berglind, Derek Berkhout, Marc Johnson, Rosanne 
Karith, Alexandra McManus.  Feasibility Study of Composting at St. 
Jerome’s and St. Paul’s Colleges.  University of Waterloo:  Waterloo, 1992.

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Chapman, Lisa, Lora Flaherty, Shawn Hetherington, Odette Pinho, Andrew  
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Cook, Patti, pers. comm, March 24, 1994.

Cratt, Leanne, pers. comm., March 14, 1994.

Elliott, Bob, pers. comm., March 24, 1994.

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Smith, Kevin, pers. comm., March 23, 1994.

Taylor, Paul, pers. comm., March 17, 1994.

Vardy, Sheila, pers. comm., March 29, 1994.

Vieregge, Linda, pers. comm., March 10, 1994.

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