Archive for January, 2014

What is Composting…and Why Do We Do It at W&M?


By Maren Hunsberger


Composting is one of those things, like veganism or a hybrid car, that’s used in skits on SNL to identify the hippie environmentalists in the group. You know, “Oh you just have to meet Carol, she brought the vegan pesto quinoa to the potluck and she and Steve have the most amazing compost in their garden, you just have to talk to them about it”. But chances are, most people are seriously confused about what compost is and why anyone would do it. It involves worms?!? Gross!! But what people don’t know is that, despite what your taste for quinoa or your opinion on hybrid cars may be, composting can be incredibly beneficial for the environment, your health, your carbon footprint, and it’s even…fun!

You start with the waste you naturally produce in your kitchen. Your eggshells, unused vegetables, old leftovers, tea bags. You can use newspaper clippings, sawdust shavings, dryer lint, flower or garden clippings, even chicken droppings (y’know, if you happen to have any of those lying around). Just start throwing any of these you have onto a pile of dirt—you can use topsoil from a bag if you like. Once you start adding your own organic material to the mix, you’ll need to turn it. This means you can have it in a big pile outside and just poke it with a shovel every once in a while or, if you really want to get fancy, buy a compost keeper that has a handle you can turn when you dump stuff into it. If you’re not into giving your compost much attention, you can fix this issue by adding lots of aerating material, like straw, so the turning part becomes unnecessary.

That’s pretty much it! Simple enough right? “But wait, what about the worms?”, you ask. Ah yes—you can add worms to your compost to increase the nutrient richness. (Plus they’re friendly and cute). So what can you use it for? Most people who compost use it on their gardens or lawns as fertilizer—if you get really good at it you can start giving/selling it to friends and neighbors. It serves quite a few eco-friendly purposes: it keeps a serious amount of waste out of landfills, which are filling too fast to keep up with America’s trash production and as it so happens, one third of the waste that makes it to a landfill is compostable. By keeping it at home, you’re preventing the landfills from filling up with waste that could be put to a better use. When you use compost to fertilize your veggies or your grass, you’re adding beneficial microorganisms to the soil (healthier for the things you’re growing and for you when you consume them) AND you’re keeping the chemicals used in generic fertilizers out of the soil waterways—excess nitrogen and phosphorus can do some serious damage to ecosystem function.

In 2010 we started composting on a large scale here at W&M. Thanks to some awesome Committee on Sustainability Interns and our great Dining Staff, all organic wastes from the Commons, Sadler, Marketplace, and Miller Hall are separated out and given to a third party company to make compost to sell as organic fertilizer. The Student Environmental Action Coalition’s gardening committee also only uses their own compost to tend the campus gardens! It’s easy, it’s hands-on or low maintenance, and it’s great for the environment. The only question left is…why not?



January 29th, 2014

The Power Shift Experience

By Maren Hunsberger

The weekend of October 18th, a group of William and Mary students made the trek up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a little something called Power Shift. This biennial conference is geared toward environmentally-minded young people all across the country—it serves as an opportunity to attend trainings and workshops while offering the chance to hear distinguished speakers on subjects ranging from clean energy to policy making. The purpose on this particularly chilly October weekend? To empower young leaders, to promote a sustainable future, and to bring young people together and forward their progress in the environmental movement. There were an estimated 8,000 plus people in attendance, including students from Virginia Tech, JMU, Mary Washington, and W&M—Virginia was well represented by its student population. Speakers at the conference included founder Bill McKibben, Dream Defender founder Phillip Agnew, and the director of the acclaimed documentary Gas Land, Josh Fox, all inspiring students in fields as diverse as nonprofit entrepreneurism and the arts. There were also a plethora of panels to choose from, focusing on topics such as homeowners in fracking territory, and an even wider variety of workshops on everything from divestment, sustainable gardening, and environmental leadership.

The conference has previously been held in DC but took place this year in Pittsburgh, PA. Once the steel capital of the world, Pittsburgh has made great leaps to clean up the city and is the first municipality to ban fracking. The city is an exemplary prototype of an urban center in the post-industrial age cleaning up its act and becoming an environmental leader, mostly for the sake of the health of its citizens. 102_0070 Another big change in this year’s conference was the new focus on environmental justice.

Environmental justice, commonly referred to as EJ, centers around the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”, according to the EPA. EJ focuses on grassroots solutions to environmental issues, mostly by ensuring equal protection from environmental health hazards. However EJ is a broad field of study and practice that can also include access to healthy food and the availability of environmental advocacy. There were several workshop and seminar opportunities at Power Shift 2013 that offered anti-oppression training to help participants recognize where one is in a position of privilege and power and to identify and understand different perspectives when addressing environmental degradation.


Sophomore Anne Davis reflected on this aspect  of the conference, saying that “it was at Power Shift that…[I realized] how fortunate I am to come from a stable, middle-class upbringing and to be getting a college education and that I don’t have to worry on a daily basis whether I’m going to get sick from the air I breathe or the water I drink”.

Most of William and Mary’s attendees are also members of SEAC, the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Student environmental organizations from across the country can stay in contact with one another and share their work after the conference on Power Shift’s website. Check it out and join the conversation at    (above, William and Mary’s Power Shift attendees)

If you have any questions or comments about Power Shift, environmental justice, or sustainable initiatives at William and Mary, please connect with us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

–Maren Hunsberger



Photos courtesy of Anne Davis


January 7th, 2014


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