| Olfactory environmentalism

New trash composters raise the ire of Wong Building staff members

Is McGill’s concern for the natural environment taking precedent over concern for its work environment? That’s what certain McGill employees think about a certain summer addition to campus. The Big Hanna T240 composter, the largest model available from Montreal’s own Vertal Inc., was installed under the Wong Building’s overhang in May. Since its installation, several staff members who work in the building have noticed that it seems to emanate what can be best described as the smell of crap.

Frank Caporuscio, a lab technician in Wong who has spearheaded the call for repairs on Hanna, has voiced his complaints to Dennis Fortune, director of McGill’s Office of Sustainability, which is behind the composting pilot program in conjunction with the student-run Gorilla Composting. Both Fortune and David Morris, the Gorilla Composting coordinator, have received specific training on the various maintenance procedures that Hanna requires. But Hanna’s stench has eluded their troubleshooting thus far. Numerous repairs were made this summer, but none have fully eradicated the stench, according to Wong staff members, though Caporuscio estimates that the smell has improved by about “50 per cent” since he first contacted Fortune about it.

Caporuscio was surprised by the choice of location for the composter because of its proximity to Wong’s front steps, which were once “a big gathering place for sitting and eating lunch and for staff barbecues,” until Big Hanna arrived on the scene. Ray Langlois, another Wong lab technician, further emphasized the importance of this gathering place: “Lunch hour was a good time to catch up with people who work in other research groups. As we lost our cafeteria a couple of years ago, the front of [the Wong] Building was popular during the nice weather.” Langlois added that the smell will diminish as the weather turns colder, but this is only a temporary solution.

The Office of Sustainability explains on its website that the composter is situated in such a way to be “visible to the public but discreet in its operations.” Public visibility, not usually desirable for composters, makes sense in the case of Hanna, whose installation is a landmark event. It is the first of its kind to be installed in North America and will be turning 60 tonnes of McGill’s food waste into compost in its pilot year, according to Morris, who expressed his excitement about the project “finally coming together five years after Gorilla Composting started” and witnessing “something so tangible show up on campus.” Its visibility also helps to raise public awareness about the feasibility of composting on a large scale.

But the staff of Wong had trouble appreciating this publicity since it has proven to be anything but discreet in its operations. Caporuscio was also upset by the fact that Wong’s “staff was never asked or consulted before the composter was installed even though [they] are McGill community members.” But mostly, he and other staff members are frustrated with the fact that the problem has still not been resolved (although there has been a distinct improvement). Hanna’s pilot year will end in June, after which McGill will have to make a decision to increase its composting capacity (and eventually add more units on campus) or to embark on a trial period with a different type of composter.

There will be an outdoor information session about the Big Hanna T240 in the next three weeks that will include refreshments and a special demo. The exact date has not yet been determined as of press time, but stay tuned for more info.