Panther dining works with Aramark to bring back composting initiative

Katherine Lepri/Contributing Writer

Miami is known for exciting nightlife, white sandy beaches and beautiful people, not composting.

In nature, nothing is waste – everything is food for something else.

Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into rich soil. It is the combination of greens and browns — like fruits, vegetables, kitchen scraps, and old leaves — that mature together through a curing process.

“There is an activation period for the first three weeks, where a lot of the breaking down happens,” says Celia Izaguirre, sustainability coordinator for Panther Dining. “In the beginning, there are bugs breaking it down to start feeding. And after that, there is a slower breaking down towards the end of the process.”

At the University, Izaguirre is working with Aramark, the Agroecology Program and the Office of University Sustainability, on a large scale composting initiative.

“The nutrients that naturally feed us — either food waste or cuttings — can go into producing more food,” Izaguirre says.

The project began two years ago for an environmental student who wanted to know the best turning time for compost composition. He worked with dining services to give him organic food waste.

When Izaguirre took the position as sustainability coordinator for Panther Dining last fall, she decided to get the project up and running again.

“I’m trying to show how two different departments of school can work together to reduce waste and provide a resource for another,” Izaguirre said. “The plan is to expand the [Organic] Garden’s composting and make the process useful for a company like Aramark.”

Aramark provides residential dining, retail operations and grounds maintenance. One of the company’s corporate values is sustainability. Patricia Williams, marketing manager for Aramark, oversees multiple initiatives at the University to decrease our environmental footprint.

When the project began years ago, only the Fresh Food Company was involved. Since then, Jamba Juice and most of the retail coffee locations, such as Starbucks and Café Bustelo, have joined in on the effort.

Izaguirre is working with Miles Medina, the manager of the Organic Garden, and students of the Agroecology Program to expand their composting efforts so Aramark can eventually utilize it as a fertilizer for its projects.

“We are excited about finding a way to make this a win-win situation,” says Williams. “The success is based on everybody doing their part; if something happens and someone forgets to pick up something, the chain is broken.”

According to Izaguirre, in the spring semester the garden composted about 1,622 pounds of pre-consumer organic waste per month. This projects to approximately 19,000 pounds of food waste a year.

“The 19,000 pounds can fill about three dump trucks,” said Izaguirre. “The final product is probably twice or three times that amount, since mulch and dried leaves are added in at higher amounts than the food waste.”

The food waste has helped in soil building for the Organic Garden’s quarter acre expansion of their fruit grove, which includes papayas, bananas and other fruit trees.

Both Izaguirre and Williams agree that the Organic Garden is one of the main reasons they are able to go through with this project, since it provides the land required.

The next step will be a batch test of the natural fertilizer on a different part of campus to see how that works for Aramark grounds. Trials begin this December.

“We are in the process of determining how much we can use as compost and as a fertilizer,” said Williams. “You really don’t know how it is going to work until you actually do it.”

She does not suggest that it will replace all of the fertilizer, but she feels this initiative will grow with time. William’s goal is for this to be the foundation to build and embed sustainability at FIU.

“This is the future,” says Izaguirre. “Environmental sustainability is important because it provides services vital for human survival, and improves the quality of our lives and for future generations.”

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