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Office Compost Program set to expand to all ASU campuses

Graphic reading, "What is compostable at ASU? 1. Produce 2. Protein 3. Paper 4. Grain"

Graphic courtesy ASU Zero Waste

March 08, 2022

Arizona State University’s Zero Waste department has long been an arbiter of sustainable practices on campus. Now, it is working to increase composting accessibility and education by expanding the Office Compost Program across all four ASU campuses.

The expansion of the Office Compost Program, which gives staff and faculty the opportunity to request a compost bin for their office kitchenette or break room, is an essential step in achieving zero waste by 2025.

Composting is a method of recycling that repurposes organic materials for agricultural practices. Compostable materials – such as food scraps, napkins and coffee filters – are converted into organic, nutrient-rich soil and used to grow more produce. This process is known as a circular resource system.

Food waste that is buried in a landfill is “broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen, producing methane gas – a potent greenhouse gas,” according to the ASU Zero Waste website.

“Not only are we able to transform food waste into more food by using it as fertilizer for agriculture, but we are also keeping methane from being generated in the first place,” said Kendon Jung, program manager for ASU Zero Waste. “Both of those promote health and well-being of not just humans, but all living species on the planet, and is the right thing to do.”

Jung emphasized the importance of redesigning systems to eliminate food waste.

“Compost helps because the university measures its circular resource goal by reaching 90% diversion from the landfill, 30% aversion from the landfill and increasing the recirculation characteristics of the institution,” he said.

The university’s diversion efforts involve sending waste materials outside of ASU to be repurposed. ASU utilizes the city of Phoenix compost facility on 27th Avenue to process the compost collected on campus.

“The institution has never really been interested in running its own compost facility or its own recycling facility. We are an educational institution,” Jung said. “This facility, which we are partnering with, is then able to focus on processing, scaling, etc.”

Pie chart breaking down ASU’s waste stream as follows: 12.09% non-recoverable; 16.18% potentially compostable; 17.18% separated recyclable; 26.27% mixed recyclable; 28.27% compostable. It reads, “Almost 45% of our waste potentially is compostable!”

Graphic courtesy ASU Zero Waste

Through its diversion efforts, ASU has access to state-of-the-art facilities owned and operated by the city of Phoenix.

“The fact that we are partnering to achieve an outcome that's greater than the sum of its parts, I think is a really great partnership and illustrates how ASU is fulfilling its socially embedded objective,” Jung said.

The ASU Zero Waste team provides the Sun Devil community with an abundance of educational resources on how to participate in the program, including a 15-minute online class (open to anyone, but required if requesting the Office Compost Program for one's office, which must be done prior to taking the class) and a new waste directory.

“We are also, through the trainings, helping to educate students, staff and faculty about how they can live every day like it’s Earth Day,” Jung said, adding that the program helps capture food waste at its source.

“The biggest thing that anyone can do every day, any day, all day, is take three extra seconds and say, 'I'm going to sort this into the proper bin,'” he said. “There are recycling and landfill bins in all of the offices and the classrooms. And now, with office compost coming to break rooms and kitchenettes, it just takes that extra three seconds.”

Jung is currently pursuing a doctorate of philosophy in design, environment and the arts through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. He says the program studies the use of experience design to promote sustainable behaviors in people.

“If we are not striving to minimize our impact on the planet," Jung said, "what are we doing here?"