Composting provides green alternative

March 9, 2000

Daniel Fruchter (T '00)

By the end of this month, a plot of previously unused Tulane property will be employed in saving the university money while making it a more environmentally responsible institution. The land, part of the university's 550-acre F. Edward Hibert Center in Belle Chasse, is designated for use in Tulane's new composting program, which aims to divert grass clippings, leaves, weeds and other yard waste from local landfills. The composted waste will biodegrade and form a nutrient-rich fertilzer that Tulane can then use to sustain its lawns and trees.

"Composting is recycling in its most perfect form, taking campus waste and making something new and valuable to us," says Liz Davey, director of the Office of Environmental Affairs. Davey researched and developed the composting program with Mike Stringer, director of Tulane's recycling program and director of support services in the physical plant department.

A well-designed composting pile mixes layers high in nitrogen, such as grass clippings, with material high in carbon, such as wood chips. Moisture and microorganisms in the soil work together to turn the yard waste into a nutrient-rich substance called humus.

Davey says she and her colleagues chose the Belle Chasse site for the compost pile because it is a large tract of Tulane-owned land that is relatively close to the uptown campus. Composting yard waste will divert between 10 and 12 percent of the uptown campus' total solid waste from the landfill in Pecan Grove, Miss., says Stringer.

Because the university pays $33 for each ton of waste dumped at the landfill, Davey estimates that the new composting plan could save the university about $10,000 in annual landfill fees. The university also will have a free and more environmentally friendly fertilizer to use on campus, she adds.

"If you look at manufactured fertilizers through their life-cycle,from production to use,they take a lot of energy to make and cause several kinds of pollution. Compost is a much better alternative," she says.

The composting program won't require drastic changes in the grounds crew's current operations, says Stringer. Tulane has designated four sites on campus as collection points for the yard debris, which the crew will transport to Belle Chasse several times a week. Stringer says the composting program has few logistical challenges.

"This program is not costing us money," he says. "We already had the manpower and the means to do it. And we're going to weigh the material at a public scale so we can determine our approximate savings from not sending it to the landfill."

Mike Case, grounds supervisor, says his staff already has adapted to gathering and collecting yard waste and keeping it separate for the composting program.

"We were used to just throwing some of this stuff out," Case says, adding that his crew has always used dead oak leaves as ground cover for the campus' azalea beds. Composting is an important aspect of being an environmentally sensitive campus, says Davey. She says other institutions, such as Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Middlebury College in Vermont, have developed successful composting programs. Davey says she hopes the university will add food waste to the composting program in the near future.

"A number of students have been concerned about food waste and are researching different systems we could use to compost it," she says. She also has enlisted the help of a composting expert at the agriculture center at Louisiana State University who inspected the Belle Chasse site and will provide training on composting techniques.

"I think this program is a big step," she says. "It is very exciting to have a composting program here at Tulane, and it's going to be fun to watch the landfill figures drop in the next few years."

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000