Composting: Nature’s Way of Recycling in Oxford and at Home

By: Elizabeth Weber

Just over a year ago, I wrote my first article as a GreenHawks Staff Writer: “Get Involved in Composting!” The article covered the beginning of the City of Oxford’s composting pilot program and their role in various events to educate community members about the importance of composting.

Through composting, the amount of organic matter that enters the landfills is reduced, which produces less methane through anaerobic decomposition. Methane released into the atmosphere is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide Beyond reducing methane in the atmosphere, composting has many benefits like soil enrichment, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and reducing landfill waste. One major difference between organic waste in the landfill versus organic waste in the compost pile is that composting produces carbon dioxide rather than methane. Because this is considered a natural process, carbon dioxide is not considered in the inventories of greenhouse gases according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Overall, we need to take action to educate our community, students, and families about the various benefits of composting. More people can get involved by composting through Oxford’s program, whether at Miami or off-campus, and also learn more about composting at home. 

Composting in Oxford

To learn more about how the City of Oxford’s pilot program has progressed since last year, I talked with David Treleaven, an Environmental Specialist with the City of Oxford. One of my first questions concerned COVID-19 restrictions and whether the pandemic caused any changes to the program. Fortunately, the program has successfully continued; however, outreach and public education were halted.

In the past, one of the successful composting and outreach initiatives the City accomplished was the switch to new compostable plates, cutlery and cups at events such as the Community Picnic. This meant that the City avoided using around  4,800 single-use water bottles, and an estimated 70 to 75 percent  of the waste generated at the picnic was composted. Following high public praise, the composting initiatives will be implemented at more events to provide education and resources to  community members. 

The City of Oxford’s pilot program is made possible through a partnership with GoZero Services, a company which has services catered to residential communities and commercial foodservice operations. Their industrial composting service helps organizations from start to finish and sells the finished product to various customers. In order to participate in these services, keep your compostable items in a container or BPI-certified bag in a cool place, such as a freezer, until you plan to drop off. BPI-certified means that the material will compost and leave no residues. The collection sites are available 24/7 at 945 South Main Street in town. Any Oxford resident is welcome to utilize the Food Scraps Drop-off Program, including students living off-campus.

GoZero containers at the Oxford collection site.

Treleaven also provided me with a summary of the program and the amount of compost collected each week. For the first year of the program, April 2019 to March 2020, 30,471 pounds were collected by GoZero Services. When looking at just 2020 collection events, 27,442 pounds of compost were obtained through 39 pick-ups. The weekly average of food scraps has been 704 pounds with a cost of $0.32 per pound. Overall, approximately 50,420 pounds have been collected by the program and there has been no indication that funding for the residential food waste program will cease.

Composting at Home

Beyond utilizing the Oxford Food Scraps Program, you can easily compost at home. During the past summer, my family and I revitalized our compost and made a new structure to have better success. We reused old wood pallets for the enclosure and have continued to make strides to improve our various techniques. Composting has allowed my family to decrease our food waste and utilize our compost product for our gardens. 

My family’s composting setup at home.

Composting at home does not require a large or intense set-up, but it is an effort  that can reduce the organic food waste that is entering the landfills. Some key items that can be composted include fruits and vegetables, rice and grains, eggshells, flowers, coffee grounds, tea bags and cooked food (without oil, dairy or meat). Items to avoid include meat and fish, bones, dairy, oil and butter. These items are likely to attract animals to your compost piles, which is something you do not want! 

Finally, your compost should be made of a mix of “the greens and browns.” The greens are often nitrogen-rich food scraps, such as fruit and vegetable scraps,  flowers or fresh leaves. The browns are carbon-rich and can include cardboard egg cartons, newspapers, dry leaves and other more typically “dry” materials. The combination of greens and browns allow the microorganisms to do their job and help you tend to a successful compost. 

Find Your Own Unique Way to Compost

Composting is beneficial, as it keeps food waste out of the landfills and reduces greenhouse gases; however, it is important to realize that having a compost pile at home is not an option for everyone. For Oxford residents, it is easy to participate in the Food Scraps Program and participate in a community-oriented effort to create sustainable change. For those living on campus, it may be difficult to access the collection site; however, there are ways to make it work! Students can talk to their residence hall’s assigned EcoRep to figure out ways to form a larger group of composters. Talk to your residence hall’s Community Leadership Team and see if you can utilize BPI plates and compost at events hosted in your residence hall. For those at home who are unable to compost, look at your local environmental centers or community gardens.

Overall, composting can be accomplished almost anywhere! The City of Oxford Food Scraps Program has made great strides towards sustainability and I am excited to see how far this program will go. With more outreach and education, the amount of food waste going to the landfill will decrease and we will all be taking another important step towards creating a sustainable future. 

Cover photo courtesy of Elizabeth Weber

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