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

January 29, 2014


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?



Entry Filed under: Uncategorized. .


Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond.

If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact sustain@wm.edu

Make sure to visit Sustainability at W&M for all of W&M's progress on sustainability efforts.

Catch up with William & Mary Sustainability on Twitter at WM_GreenisGold
and on Instagram @wm_sustainability

To learn what William & Mary's Environmental Law Society is up to, visit their blog at http://envirols.blogs.wm.edu/.


RSS WM_GreenisGold