Three waste bins in row, showing garbage, recycling, and composting signs
The sole composting bin in SSMU

News | Campus compost contamination

Students fail to separate food waste

Amidst rumours that the one composting bin in the Shatner Building is actually being emptied into the garbage, The Daily interviewed Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP Clubs & Services Kimber Bialik, who confirmed the rumors.

The composting program originally began a year and a half ago, Bialik told The Daily in an email, and from the beginning it was evident there was a problem with contamination of products in the compost bin.

“Students using the cafeteria weren’t differentiating between food waste that was compostable, garbage, and recycling,” Bialik said. As a result, the compost collection agency, Compost Montreal, refused to accept the waste.

The SSMU Environment Committee and the two SSMU Environment Commissioners attempted to address this issue through an awareness-raising initiative implemented in February. The program aimed to increase student knowledge about composting through a general education campaign and the use of signs indicating which products are compostable.

“Students using the cafeteria weren’t differentiating between food waste that was compostable, garbage, and recycling.”

According to Bialik, the initiative proved ultimately unsuccessful. There was “no change in the amount of garbage being mixed in with genuine compostable material,” she noted.

SSMU Environment Commissioner Kristen Perry informed The Daily that the Commissioners “were mostly involved in the educational aspect of the program last year as it was first implemented, but the ongoing management of composting actually falls under building management.”

In an interview with The Daily, Leia Jones, a U3 Environment student and member of the Environment Committee, remarked that she has not observed students making an effort to separate compost in the SSMU cafeteria.

When asked why this may be, Jones said, “I think a major reason for this could [be] that it is time-consuming to actually think about every piece of waste you have produced, and to try and figure out what is compostable, what is recyclable, and what is garbage.”

In addition, Bialik believes “the fact that the compost, garbage, and recycling are all side by side in similar-looking bins is likely a large part of the problem.”

Bialik is unsure whether Compost Montreal stopped collecting, or if SSMU cancelled the pick-up requests because of the contamination, as the cessation of composting happened before her term.

“It is time-consuming to actually think about every piece of waste you have produced, and to try and figure out what is compostable.”

However, she added that there was no indication that the relationship ended badly, and is confident that SSMU “could renew that relationship if the appropriate measure were undertaken at SSMU to ensure that our compost program was successful.”

While the Environment Committee has not discussed the issue of composting much in its meetings, Jones added that the Committee plans to host a workshop discussing different ways students can compost. She added that there is a possibility the Committee will run one workshop they were unable to implement last year, which would focus on DIY composting using composting worms. “By the time we went to organize the workshop [last year], it was too cold and the ground had frozen along with the worms,” Jones said. Meanwhile, the Committee is working toward increasing student awareness of environmental issues through a series of bi-weekly workshops hosted in SSMU.

Other campus environmental groups do not appear to be focused on the issue of composting.

According to Bialik, the Environment Committee is the only environmental group on campus directly involved in the awareness campaign about the compost in the cafeteria. However, she added that “Plate Club does work generally on preventing waste in the cafeteria, so they could be a natural partner in the future.”

Bialik said that SSMU is “looking into getting freestanding compost bins that would be differentiated by colour and location within the cafeteria” to emphasize the difference between compost, recycling, and garbage bins.

The project is still in its formative stages, and SSMU is looking at logistical aspects such as cost, location, and bringing Compost Montreal back on board to review feasibility and planning. As of yet, there is no timeline for the project, but Bialik said she hopes it will stop the misuse of the compost bin and encourage students to learn more about composting.

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