A Sustainable Campus: Touring ISU's In-House Compost Facility

What I love about young people - especially college-aged students - is they have the wonderful ability to make systems level changes in their world. Oftentimes their ideas are taken seriously by college officials because, you know, they're paying thousands and thousands of dollars to attend that college or university.

Sometimes systems level changes are a collaboration of sorts. For example, at Iowa State University in Ames, it wasn't just college students who wanted an in-house compost facility, it was also the dairy research barn, the food services departments, and the lawn care/landscaping program.

Naturally, when John and I toured Red Granite Farm outside of Boone, we readily accepted the invitation to tour ISU's compost facility. You know, because I love compost.

We met Steve Jonas at the huge compost facility, located off a gravel road just outside of 'town', which is only a couple miles from Ames and ISU's main campus.

The food service, campus landscaping services, and dairy research barn all use this compost facility. Trucks enter with the compostable matter and weigh on the scale before dumping, then weigh out on the scale as they leave. Their total amount of compostable waste is recorded in the office.

Steve Jonas manages the entire Iowa State University compost facility. He was kind enough to show us around the large structures where the raw materials and compost are housed.  There is a specific nitrogen carbon ratio and temperature that Steve maintains, and it all starts with bedding and manure from the dairy barn, food waste from campus, and lawn waste from the lawn services department.

Steve uses this large compost 'mixer' that fits perfectly over each of his wind rows of compost. He said it takes about 4-5 months to get a finished product. 

And after seeing the massive scale on which ISU is composting, I realize this is no easy job. However, knowing the sustainability of composting organic matter, it's clear that this job has it's rewards.

The finished product is mixed with a little bit of topsoil for use around ISU's campus. It is held under a roof, so even in cold or windy weather, the amended compost is ready for use by campus services.

And those college students I mentioned - what did they have to do with this, you wonder? Steve told us  they needed a place to recycle their pizza boxes. The recycling center won't recycle them because they had greasy pizza inside, making it a poor recycling option. Lo and behold, the students voiced their desire for change, and now the cardboard pizza boxes that line every ISU student dorm and apartment in Ames are shredded and hauled to the compost facility where Steve turns it into black gold for reuse on campus.

Pretty amazing, isn't it?

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1 comment:

  1. Amazing!! Love it. Greasy college kid pizza boxes!!! I remember how much pizza I ate as an undergrad. It gives me hope to read stories like this. Another place I would love to tour some day. Nice job, Kelli.


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