On April 9th, four new compost bins appeared next to the usual trash and recycling options in the Jaharis, Sackler, and the M&V buildings. These small green bins are a pilot composting initiative run by Michelle Lee-Bravatti, student life representative of the Friedman Student Council, and her team of compost volunteers. Getting these bins to campus took time, effort, and coordination between multiple players. The Sprout sat down with Michelle to learn about her hard work to bring composting to campus, and what she wants to students to know about this new option for food waste.
The entire time I’ve been at the Friedman School, students have grumbled about our lack of composting services on campus. The Tufts Medford campus, the Veterinary School in Grafton, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts have composting, so why can’t we? It never seemed clear as to why we couldn’t, or didn’t, have composting. My only experience with trying to get composting to come to campus was for the 2017 Student Research Conference. We were told that we would have to transport any compost back to Medford ourselves. As the person on the committee with the car, I perhaps-not-so-politely declined the offer. After this experience, I was delighted to find that composting had indeed come to campus the exact weekend of the 2018 Student Research Conference.
At the end of the conference, I noticed Michelle Lee-Bravatti determinedly pulling compostable items out of the trash and into big compost bags. It was clear that students were going to need some time to get used to the new compost and learn what they could and couldn’t put in the bin. Though I was too busy to reach out to Michelle at the time, a week later I sat down with her to learn about the new composting initiative.
Michelle Lee-Bravatti is a second-year Nutrition Epidemiology and MPH student. In January, she ran for Student Council on the exclusive platform of bringing composting to the Health Sciences campus. Though Michelle has since to stepped down as Student Life Representative (for personal reasons), she and the Friedman “Composting Committee”—Silvia Berciano, Becky Cohen, Jessie Kim, Danielle Krobath, Leah Powley, Jifan Wang, and Sara Waszyn—have succeeded in bringing composting to campus. In our interview, Michelle emphasized that bringing composting to campus would not have been possible with the support of Shoshana Blank at the Tufts Office of Sustainability, Cory Pouliot at the Tufts Boston Campus Facility Services, funding from Student Council, and the current student volunteers—Priyanka Basnet, Carl Bender, Becky Cohen, Brooke Colaiezzi, Jessie Kim, Jifan Wang, and Alison Watson.
The goal of this pilot composting period is to raise awareness with students, see how much compost students generate, and determine what can be improved for this fall. Currently, compost bins have been placed in three high-traffic kitchen areas: The first-floor Jaharis Café (one bin), the fourth floor Sackler Café (two bins), and the student lounge in the M&V building (one bin). [For those not familiar, the M&V building is to the left of Jaharis, otherwise known as the Biomedical Research & Public Health Building.] Ideally, the number of compost bins will increase over time; however, the composting service relies on student volunteers who monitor and remove the bags from the bins so the number of bins cannot be more than students can supervise.
Overall, the approval process to get composting service to come to campus was supported by all parties. The two main hurdles that had to be addressed were smelliness and sustainability. Facilities staff was concerned that the compost bins would smell (and the outdoor toter would attract rodents), therefore the compost cannot contain meat or dairy products (egg shells are okay). The other issue was ensuring that the project would have continued support. Staff in charge of trash and recycling do not have composting as part of their contractual responsibilities, so it is up to student volunteers to monitor the compost bins to make sure they don’t overfill or smell. Students monitor the bins twice daily and take the bin bags out if necessary. The bin needs to be emptied every two to three days—full or not. Students deposit the bags into a large outdoor compost toter in the Jaharis driveway. This is picked up every Friday but the same company that services Medford’s composting program.
To bolster this new composting initiative, Michelle has applied for Tufts Green Funds. If the funds are awarded, the money would be used to compensate student volunteers for their time monitoring and emptying the compost and expand the locations of the compost bins. Hopefully, this expansion will also include the Food 4 Thought Café in Sackler.
From my interview with Michelle, it seems like the composting pilot is going reasonably well. The biggest hiccups so far seem to be that signs directing students to the compost bins have been repeatedly taken down and not many students from the other health sciences schools know about the initiative. Additionally, there is some confusion around where napkins and other soiled paper goods go, as both the trash and compost signs include these items. Michelle wants to be clear, “all napkins, soiled paper goods, cardboard, etc. can go in the compost.”
For the record:
What Can Go in the Compost:
- Paper towels, paper plates, soiled cardboard, napkins
- Coffee filters, coffee grounds, tea bags
- Plant-based waste, egg shells
- Biodegradable plastics (these must have the #7 PLA symbol—see the sign on the compost bin)
What Can Not Go in the Compost:
- Dairy and Meat Products
- Stickers found on fruit or produce
The success of this pilot period depends on how much students compost and the dedication of student volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Michelle Lee-Bravatti at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, please compost!
Erin Child is a second-year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program (she’ll be graduating in December). Growing up in Maine, her family always had a giant compost pile and turning it was her least favorite chore. Despite her gardening family, Erin has the opposite of a “green thumb” and has managed to kill both aloe and spider plants. She plans to stay far away from her roommates’ garden beds this summer, but still appreciate any bounty that comes into the house.