University of Vermont

Pilot Program Collects Office Compost by Bike

Jens Pharr
UVM student and One Revolution employee Jens Pharr makes his rounds by bike, trailing bins of food scraps from UVM offices.

Composting efforts at UVM are expanding with a pilot program designed to collect compostable materials from office buildings. While UVM has been collecting food waste from the dining halls since 1997 and diverts nine tons of food each week from the landfill, this is the first centralized effort to provide a composting alternative within departmental and program offices.

UVM Recycling has teamed up with One Revolution, a local member-owned bicycle collection service, and the UVM Bike Users Group (B.U.G.) to pilot test this unique compost collection service to about 30 UVM offices.

This summer, faculty and staff in the selected offices will set aside their compostable materials -- from coffee grounds to sandwich crusts -- for a twice-weekly pickup. On Wednesdays and Fridays, Jens Pharr, UVM student, B.U.G. member and One Revolution employee, travels by bicycle to retrieve the food scrap bags, made from compostable material as well, from each office. In its second week, the pilot program is averaging about 40 pounds of food per pickup.

"The collection system we have in place for the dining halls, which relies on large trucks to deal with the high volume of material, isn't suitable for office buildings," says Erica Spiegel, manager of UVM's solid waste and recycling program. "Our hope is that this bike-based approach will be a good fit for the university and divert even more waste from the landfill."

The program is not just for environmentally themed offices on campus. Participating programs include Pediatrics, the Office of the President and the Transportation Research Center, among others. "The President's Wing decided to participate because it sounded like a simple way to support the university's efforts to promote sustainability and environmental responsibility," says Cindy Lee, senior assistant to the vice president for finance and administration. "So far, our experience has been positive and seamless. The composting bags take up very little space and really are leak-and odor-proof," she says, noting that containing the scraps in bags instead of waste bins has likely decreased odors in the office's kitchen.

The pilot program begins the same month that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed to law House Bill 485, which enacts phased-in, mandatory recycling and composting in the state. The first phase targets large food waste generators, and by 2020, Vermont will prohibit the disposal of all compostable and recyclable materials in landfills. "UVM is ahead of the mandate," says Spiegel, "by implementing food waste collection from less traditional areas such as offices and staff kitchens."