This article is part 3 of a 4 part series on "Greening your college life." Read part 1 and part 2.
As a college student, I know first-hand that it can seem difficult to lead a sustainable life in college. Dorm buildings are often less energy efficient, recycling options might be limited, and students don't have extra money to splurge on eco-friendly products.
However, even if you live in an older building — and even if you're not in college — it's still possible to make a difference and have a positive environmental impact.
One way college students can positively affect the environment is by composting. Composting is a way of recycling organic matter into a fertilizer that can make for healthier, more vibrant plants. If you have a garden or open space near your dorm, or if you want to repurpose your organic trash, building a mini-composting station is just the way to do it.
You can create your very own station by following these five steps.
1. Build the bin
In order to begin the process, you will need a bin to store everything you are composting. Bigger stations can be kept outside but it is possible to create a micro-composting station indoors by utilizing a window that gets a lot of natural light. Purchase or build a bin, (plastic or wood), to start making your compost.
2. Balance your mixture
As a general rule, everything that once was a plant can be composted. But it’s important to have a good mixture of plant matter in order to ensure the best results. You want to include a lot of “green stuff” that is high in nitrogen, like grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea leaves and fruit and vegetable scraps. You also want to make sure you have mix in “brown stuff” that is high in carbon, like leaves, old flowers, and dead plants. Paper can also be mixed in as well as cotton and egg shells. Any natural kitchen scrap you have that has been a plant can mix in the bin, but there are some items that should never join your compost pile. Meat scraps and bones are particularly hard to break down, as are synthetic fabric and glossy magazines. Bread and pasta are also not the best choices as they take a very long time to decompose and become soggy.
3. Keep the right conditions
Every composting station needs air so try to open a window fairly often if your station is indoors. Your pile should also be moist, so if you live in a dry climate you may need to add water directly to your mixture. A lid on the bin can also help keep moisture locked inside. And as you build your pile, try to sprinkle droplets of water on every new layer. As for temperature, a composting station needs to be warm to show that the decomposing process is happening. If the station is lukewarm or cold, your station needs more material that is high in nitrogen.
4. Turn your pile
Aeration is the key to good compost. About once every week or two, you will need to “turn” your pile, which means breaking up clumps to ensure air flow. You should move your pile from spot to spot, and try to move material that was on the inside to the outside and vice versa. If the pile is not getting enough air, it will take on a sharply vinegar smell instead of a sweet, natural scent.
5. Harvest your compost
If all goes according to plan, there should be a layer of compost at the bottom of your bin (it will look like thick, brown dirt). In warm weather, the compost can be harvested after only a few weeks. But in colder weather, the decomposition takes much longer. Sometimes piles that are made in the fall are only ready to be put to use by the spring. Once you believe that your compost is mature, spread it on the base of flower beds, trees, grass, and any indoor and outdoor plant you can find. Compost is one of the best fertilizers around and will help any dorm plant or apartment garden grow stronger and healthier.
Composting through LEED
Composting is a great way to recycle organic matter and to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. USGBC is also concerned with waste generation, which is why there is a Solid Waste Management LEED credit. This credit, available to existing buildings and for new construction, aims to "facilitate the reduction of ongoing waste and toxins generated by building occupants and building operations that are hauled to and disposed of in landfills or incineration facilities." LEED buildings have the opportunity to create a plan to limit the amount of harmful material they are generating, which saves energy and makes for a lesser environmental impact. Part of that waste management plan includes a section dealing with “ongoing consumables,” meaning the all of the resources used by the facility and its people.
Composting organic matter is an effective way to recycle some of these ongoing consumables, and it’s a tactic that can be used anywhere from USGBC’s headquarters to a college dorm room.