By Monica Chapman
A dirty little secret went public in a big way Thursday as Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan cut a paper ribbon and placed it where all of the event's disposables eventually would end up -- in the composter.
As one of many planned "zero waste" events across campus, it only seemed appropriate that the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Ohio University's new in-vessel composter be a celebration of all things biodegradable. Attendees from ODNR, the Ohio Board of Regents, and various political and governmental offices joined members of the Ohio University community on Dairy Lane, celebrating over "dirt" pudding and finger foods served on compostable tableware.
Delivered on Aug. 26, Ohio University's Wright Environmental in-vessel composting unit is the largest in-vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation. It is capable of processing up to 28 tons of organic waste at one time.
"This is the beginning of our future in terms of sustainability -- making major strides forward for Ohio University to be a leader in sustainability, not only in Athens County but also in our state and in our nation," McDavis said. "We are doing it not because it is trendy, but because it is the right and smart thing to do."
Joining McDavis and Logan in offering remarks on Ohio University's leadership in moving the state toward a green economy were Associate Vice President for Facilities Harry Wyatt, Executive Director of Culinary and Dining Operations Gwyn Scott and Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus.
Logan hailed the composter as a project that simultaneously spurs economic development and preserves natural resources.
"Competition for jobs requires us to set new priorities and to look for growth in new places and through new partnerships," Logan said. "(This project) brings together the best that Ohio has to build the jobs Ohio needs -- proof that we can save our environment and rebuild our economy at the same time to create a net benefit for all involved."
Ohio University expects to divert as much as 25 percent of the Athens campus' solid waste from the landfill as a result of this project. Currently, the Central Food Facility is the sole contributor to the university's compost, but Marcus said Baker University Center would follow suit in the spring. The dining halls are next in line.
Usable compost is expected to be available about the end of April. Although the organic waste is processed in about 14 days, it needs to cure for another 90. The resulting nutrient-rich soil amendment will be used to improve university grounds.
Originally planned for Oct. 4, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was delayed more than four months because of the impact of Hurricane Ike on the schedules of American Electric Power work teams.
The site became operational the week of Jan. 19. And under the direction of equipment operator Greg King, 8,995 pounds of organic waste have been collected in three weeks' time. King offered ceremony attendees a demonstration of the composter, showcasing how the system works and what types of items it can process.
The composting initiative is a joint effort involving Facilities and Auxiliary Services. The ODNR Division of Recycling and Litter partnered with the university on two grants totaling more than $335,000 to obtain the composter.
"This facility is a concrete example of Ohio University is increasing steps to a transformed way of approaching how we build, how we operate and how we maintain the campus," Wyatt said. "Today, we not only want to celebrate the opening of this facility, we celebrate the facility as an example of future initiatives yet to come."
As with any electrically powered utility, some greenhouse gas emissions do result from the composter's day-to-day operations. But according to Marcus, pointed efforts have been made to reduce the environmental impacts and make this project a model of sustainability.
A 10.03-kilowatt solar array -- the fifth and largest solar array in operation at Ohio University -- powers the unit. Dovetail Solar & Wind, an Athens-based renewable energy system provider, installed the array, which is projected to offset at least 60 percent of the electricity needs of the site. The resulting energy savings will offset the burning of 8,000 pounds of coal annually, or 7.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.
By diverting waste from the landfill, composting also combats the release of methane -- a gas that traps significantly more heat than carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.
"When you step outside, you will feel the winds of change a-blowing," shouted Marcus, straining to be heard over 20- to 40-mph wind gusts that whipped through the Athens site throughout the ceremony. After a burst of laughter erupted from the crowd, she continued, "We're delighted you could be here to bear witness to organics recycling at Ohio University taking flight."
For additional information and answers to frequently asked questions about the Ohio University in-vessel composter, visit www.ohio.edu/compost.
To read about ODNR Director Sean Logan's visit with students at Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, click here.