News and Media
New pulper brings campus closer to carbon-neutral dining
Oct. 04, 2011
The pulper grinds and drains food waste in a self-contained system, resulting in a fine, textured material that will be used as compost at George Jones Memorial Farm. The system will collect all stages of food waste — from food prep to post-consumer scraps — and eventually will handle the corn-based, biodegradable utensils and plates that are in use at dining halls.
“Over the last several years, we’ve been trying to figure out the best way to responsibly deal with food waste,” says Michele Gross, director of business operations and dining services. “We investigated several different companies and various types of waste processing. We concluded that the most tried and true system is an on-site pulper/extractor.”
Gross says Campus Dining Services has investigated the possibility of producing compost material at all of Oberlin’s dining halls, but CDS staff decided that starting in Stevenson, which offers and all-you-can-eat buffet, would be an appropriate first step.
The pulping process reduces waste to about one-eighth of the original volume. The machine is not a composter, but it has an extractor that squeezes out most of the liquid, leaving a pulp material that’s drier, lighter and easier to work with.
One of the main advantages will be a decreased reliance on garbage disposals, which require municipal water, electricity and sanitation resources. The pulper is expected to reduce 95 percent of the post-consumer solid waste from Stevenson that enters the municipal sewer system. The system also will reduce water use in the dish rooms by 75 percent.
“We currently run a food disposal almost every hour of the day during dining operations,” Gross says. “Our hope is that someday, we won’t have to run a disposal at all.”
The pulped material will be picked up by George Jones Memorial Farm and added to the farm’s formal compost or its worm composting program. Since 2004, the college has collected more than 10 gallons of used coffee grounds and 100 pounds of kitchen scraps each week for compost at Jones Farm; CDS also donates 100 percent of its used food-grade cooking oil to Jones Farm, Full Circle Fuels, and Calala’s Water Haven, a local nursery that raises and harvests shrimp and other seafood. The cooking oil —about 98 gallons per week — is used for farm machinery fuel.
By having a pulper, CDS can collect meat and bone food waste that normally wouldn’t be added to compost. For its second phase in implementing the pulper, CDS intends to collect and grind up the disposable, compostable containers offered for carryout food in Dascomb dining hall. While the college prefers that students participate in the reusable container program, adding disposable serving ware to the compost mix will help “close the sustainability circle,” Gross says.
Students in the environmental studies program have led the charge in finding practical solutions for composting and reducing food waste in Oberlin’s dining halls, says Rick Panfil, General Manager of Oberlin’s food service provider, Bon Appetit Management Company.
In 2001, Lucian Eisenhauer ’03 wrote a paper on the cost-savings involved in composting, and in 2003 he followed up his research with a proposal for a formal compost initiative. Meredith Dowling ’06, who helped establish Oberlin’s Office of Sustainability, also conducted research on a composting facility for dining halls.
Although a compost facility wasn’t realized, Panfil says student research has been an integral part of sustainability planning and the decision to purchase a pulper. Bon Appetit has partnered with CDS to reach sustainability goals and find best practices for reducing waste. Bon Appetit has also provided a grant toward the purchase of the pulper. Gross says the total cost for equipment and installation is about $114,000.
In addition to the Bon Appetit grant, CDS received a sustainability grant from the Oberlin College Green EDGE Fund, and the Class of 2010 chose to support the project with its senior gift, raising nearly $8,000.