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Damen Dining looks for ways to compost

Simpson Dining composts. De Nobili Dining composts. Engrained Cafe in San Francisco Hall composts. If this is the case, then why doesn’t Damen Dining compost?

Composting is the recycling of food scraps and other organic waste back into the soil to decompose. The end product is a nutrient-rich soil product called compost. Currently, Loyola is partnered with Midwest Organics Recycling, a company that picks up Loyola’s compostable waste each week to be dropped off at its site in McHenry, Ill.

Because of the lack of road access and space constraints around the Damen Student Center, where Damen Dining is located, it is difficult for a truck to pick up compostable waste at the side of the building each week, according to Hanh Pham, the Department of Sustainability compost coordinator. However, Pham said bringing composting to Damen is something the Department of Sustainability wishes to see happen and is in the process of planning.

“Simpson serves about 1,000 meals a day, de Nobili serves 2,500 and Damen [Dining] serves 3,750,” Pham said.

Over the summer, the department brainstormed various solutions for Damen’s compost limitations, she said.

“All the different variations that we tried were either super labor intensive or would cost a lot; so in the end, we thought the best way would be to use some sort of technology to manage it on site,” Pham said.

“We will have to invest a lot of money into this technology, so we’re asking, ‘What’s the best technology?’” she said. “We’re currently looking at the Somat DeHydrator system.”

The Somat DeHydrator, a composting system, dehydrates the food and processes it at oven-like temperatures to kill bacteria and reduce waste until it becomes a “dirt-like, earthy smelling” material, according to Pham.  The system can reduce 220 pounds of food to just 15 pounds — an 88 percent reduction in volume and weight, according to Pham — making it possible to transport the compost to the south side of campus for the compost hauler to pick up.

Two systems costing about $30,000 each, would be required based on the number of students who eat at Damen. However, with labor and renovation, the estimated cost could possibly be between $150,000 and $200,000, according to Pham.

Maureen Baynes, a member of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), said she makes a conscious decision not to eat at Damen because of its lack of composting. She said composting at Damen is worth the investment and something she would like to see happen.

“I definitely think it’s worth it,” the 19-year-old ad/PR and visual communications double major said. “Since Engrained and Simpson and de Nobili are all composting, and some students are composting on their own as well, I think it would be great to spread that to Damen.”

The department has considered several other on-site management systems, Pham said.  The Somat system, however, requires little maintenance and creates a potentially marketable end-product for Loyola to sell to the community. Pham said the compost would be a product that students could ultimately sell to the community for personal use, such as for gardening.

“It’s a great student product waiting to happen,” Pham said. “I think it would be a great business. If we do this system and have 50 pounds of [compost] at the end, it would be amazing to have it marketed as Loyola Compost, or something like that.”

Even without Damen compost added to the equation, 38 percent of Loyola’s waste is diverted from landfills, according to Pham. She also said last academic year, 62 tons of food scraps were composted from Simpson Dining alone. Adding Damen to the statistics would result in a significant increase in compost, she said.

Bringing the ability to compost in Damen will be a big investment, hence the careful deliberation over which technology to invest in, Pham said. It has been a case of endless research, trial and error and asking questions, she said.

“The question now is: Is this the right technology to invest in?” Pham said.

Sam Sartori, a 20-year-old junior also involved in SEA, said that although a lot of students do not understand the value, having composting at Damen is worth the investment for the sake of the environment.

“I think it’s important for Damen to compost. A lot of students don’t really know about it, and how good it really is for the environment,” Satori, a journalism major, said.

Some of the “good” that comes from composting includes sending less waste into landfills, thus reducing methane gas emissions into the atmosphere and returning natural nutrients to the soil.

Jackie Gorman, 20, is the sustainability initiatives coordinator for Growers Guild, Loyola’s gardening club, which promotes sustainability initiatives around campus by encouraging home-grown food products.

Gorman would also like to see composting happen at Damen, because she has seen such positive results in her own composting experiences.

“I compost, myself, in my apartment off campus, and I’ve noticed a huge reduction in how much trash I have, and how often I have to take it out,” the junior environmental studies and communications double major said. “I can’t imagine what that would look like for a dining hall.”

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