NCSSM reduces environmental footprint through composting initiative

Sustainability is a focus at NCSSM year-round, but especially during the month of April — Earth Month. This year, we share progress on our composting initiatives on campus, and a look at other steps the school has taken to reduce its environmental footprint.

Since NCSSM’s Strategic Plan first identified sustainability as a key campus goal in 2012, the school, including a group of senior student leaders called Sustainability Project Leaders (SPLs), has established a wide range of programs ranging from large-scale recycling to residence hall sustainability competitions.

One area of focus this academic year has been launching a full-fledged composting initiative. “Just by the nature of the type of institution we are — a residential campus feeding 680 students, as well as many staff members, each day — our cafeteria generated a good bit of organic waste,” says Linda Schmalbeck, sustainability coordinator and science instructor at NCSSM. “Small groups of students and staff had worked on pilot programs for composting before, but we were never able to tackle composting across the entire campus.”

That all changed last  year, with grant funding from the UNC Association of Student Governments. “We were lucky to find CompostNow, a Raleigh-based organization that collects food scraps from residents and businesses and then delivers them to a central industrial-scale facility for composting,” Schmalbeck says. Now, food waste from the cafeteria is composted, with the SPLs and a team of work service students managing the daily composting duties. The resulting compost is used in the Sustainability Courtyard and other garden spaces around campus.

CompostNow also collects data on the compost generated. In the first half of this academic year, NCSSM diverted more than 40,000 pounds of waste from the landfill, producing nearly 10,000 pounds of compost. That is 5,286 pounds of methane avoided, or the equivalent of 393 cars parked for two weeks. And, in case you were wondering, the tomato potential of the soil produced? 20,330 tomatoes!

“That’s a lot of potential tomatoes!” says Schmalbeck. “The students, SPLs, work service students and the food services management and staff are all working wonders on the composting front.”

In recent years, NCSSM has also worked extensively to reduce its environmental footprint through a solar panel project, a soil conservation garden and several rain gardens to capture and treat stormwater runoff before it reaches Ellerbe Creek. The campus has also seen  a major lighting upgrade, the addition of water bottle filling stations, recycling initiatives, and steam and water leak repairs.

What’s on the horizon for sustainability at NCSSM? “The Sustainability Project Leaders have so many great ideas and are so dedicated to sustainability at NCSSM,” Schmalbeck says. “But, next up, it looks like stormwater management improvements that also beautify the campus with more gardens, and more composting and educational initiatives around campus, in our summer programs and even in local public schools.”

Learn more about sustainability at NCSSM.

Interested in supporting sustainability at NCSSM? Make your gift here to designate your donation to sustainability projects.