Student Compost Working Group expands work to Chilcott Hall

Associate Director of Residential Education and Housing Services Elizabeth Braxton at Occidental College. Friday, April 12, 2019. Sam Orlin/The Occidental

The Student Compost Working Group installed compost bins in Chilcott Hall April 3. Chilcott’s new composting program is a part of continued efforts by the Student Compost Working Group, building on the implementation of compost bins in Braun Hall Feb. 28, 2018, a project led by Stella Ramos* (sophomore) in her first year. According to Student Compost Working Group member Elizabeth Noble (first year), the group hopes to eventually bring composting to every residence hall on campus.

“I think now that we have this model, and we have people who have done it before, who are mostly first years and sophomores, we’re going to be able to move forward a lot faster next semester,” Noble said.

According to Sustainability Coordinator Jenny Low, who has worked with the Student Compost Working Group from the beginning of their efforts, the students’ past experience working in Braun informed how they approached introducing composting to Chilcott. However, that doesn’t mean that the same composting plan can be used for any hall.

“Each of the halls is a little bit unique. There’s set up, location, restraints that come with it, and just the type of people attracting it. You would have to develop a specific plan for each hall,” Low said. “You can still have an overlapping plan, but you can’t just roll out the same type of program.”

The student-led project has involved coordination with several departments on campus, including Residential Education & Housing Services (REHS) and Facilities. According to Associate Director of REHS Elizabeth Braxton, the group met with her this spring to discuss their vision.

“I’m excited about the future of this initiative,” Braxton said. “That committee is still in the beginning process of looking at expanding it to all of the residence halls, and we’re eager to continue to work with them over the next few years to figure out what it looks like. I’m hoping that overall, as a ResEd department, we will continue educating in that area of sustainability.”

Low said it is very uplifting to see students so motivated about sustainability.

“It’s been a really positive and fulfilling experience being able to install the compost bins in Chilcott after talking about it for so long,” Noble said. “Being able to physically install them and knowing that they are there, we have a team and they are being taken out has been really exciting.”

The team that Noble refers to is a group of volunteer Chilcott residents who are responsible for transporting the compost from the residence halls to larger bins, something that has to be done about three times a week.

The group is working to offer some form of financial incentive for student compost workers in the future, according to Low. This financial incentive is important to reward students as well as to create a consistent group of workers who are able to notice compost trends over time.

“They [volunteer students] basically take all of the different metrics. They’re the eyes on the ground. We get so much information from them because they are always paying attention,” Low said. “Having the same workers there is important so that they see the general trend.”

One of the group volunteers in Braun is Katherine Wobler (first year). She got involved in the composting efforts at Occidental after working to bring compost to her high school as their sustainability club’s president. As a hands-on volunteer, she spends time sorting through the compost to make sure that everything is compostable, as sometimes the bins are used as just another trash bin.

“It’s frustrating when the entire bin is full of non-compostable items, because then it just shows that there is a lack of either attention to what students are putting in the compost bin, or a lack of knowledge, right? It’s one or the other,” Wobler said. “One of the most frequent things that we would find is to-go containers, which are plastic. And although the food that may be in them is compostable, the containers themselves are not.”

According to Wobler, she and the group were able to address the problem of to-go containers being composted in Braun by putting up signs, and the problem decreased.

*Stella Ramos is an editor for The Occidental.