AASHE Student Diary Series: The Story of a Campus 'Compost Lady'
Camille Delavaux, a first-year earth and environmental science student at Lehigh University, is featured in this installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series. As a member of the university’s Green Action team, Delavaux shares the ups and downs she has experienced while organizing efforts toward a campus-wide composting initiative. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to email@example.com.
This is the story of how I became Compost Lady at Lehigh University.
It started in the fall, when Green Action – the main sustainability club on campus - became aware of the Pepsi Refresh Project. Huge grants to create monumental change at Lehigh? What are we waiting for? The club thought it would be a great way to get some funding for meaningful change on campus and a great way to help implement a sustainable idea within our campus community. But. We were working on little projects. We wanted something that would bring about some real change to Lehigh.
I’d always composted growing up; we collected food scraps and then tossed them on the mound at the edge of the woods. When I found out that the Green House—a community where environmentally conscious students live together two houses down from mine—had a composter, I made a change in my new home on campus. My housemates and I started separating our cooking scraps and compostable materials to bring over to the Green House composter.
Broadening compost efforts from my house to the entire campus was the ambitious goal we’d been looking for. Throughout the process of writing the Pepsi Refresh Project grant submission with the help of other students in the club, I researched how other schools in the country were efficiently implementing a composting system. Specifically, I looked at:
• Where on campus do they compost?
• Who does the actual separating?
• How have they worked to change the students' awareness and participation?
• What were some setbacks?
• What are financial incentives to do it at all?
There's a lot to learn before jumping into buying a composter and trying to change a college mindset. My adviser and geology professor at the time directed me toward a potential research adviser. A floor below, I knocked on Dork Sahagian’s door, and walked out half an hour later skipping down the steps of the building. The director of the university’s Environmental Initiative was helping me, a freshman in her first semester, to undertake this huge project? Wow.
And the support keeps pouring in. I never stop being amazed by it. Now, I’m also working with professors and staff on campus in addition to a few dedicated students. I’m blown away by the help; other people want to deal with slimy food waste? Cool.
Right now, I’m working on a poster for our “Undergraduate Research Pre-Symposium.” I’m excited to get more people thinking about compost, even if I don’t end up being selected to present at the symposium. I’m looking for funding to go to the Food Justice Summit in Boston in March. I’m also looking at more school composting systems, applying for research grants and trying to help the Green House figure out how often to get rid of its compost. I’m also talking with members of Psi Upsilon fraternity about implementing compost practices into their daily routine.
There is so much to improve upon at Lehigh in all sustainable practices, but particularly in composting. Our waste audits reveal a 30 to 50 percent decrease in waste going to the landfill if we start throwing that banana peal in a composting bin. This is from waste audits in residence halls; imagine the impact on dining halls.
The bin does need to be there first, but we have an amazing opportunity for change. I’m reading composting documentation, books, e-mails. I’m meeting. I’m calling. I’m skyping. I’m texting. I’m typing. In addition to Dork, I’ve received support from the Green House founder, the director of the Lehigh Valley Alliance for Sustainable Communities, our sustainability coordinator, dining staff, my mom and dad, compost system managers from other institutions and knowledgeable students at Lehigh.
This is work, but I love it. I’m running, handshaking, jumping through hoops. I’m learning as I go and eager to make change, but realizing it takes time and more than just me.
So much has happened since the last entry.
We never obtained the Pepsi Refresh Project grant. We did, however, raise awareness in the process. We walked up to people at one of our dining locations asking them to vote, explaining what we were trying to do and why. I received the grant from my Earth and Environmental Science (EES) Department to go visit colleges and universities to see their compost systems and talk with those involved. I’m planning to visit both Northeast and Southeast schools with 1,000 miles and seven nights funded!
I also obtained funding from EES to attend the Food Justice Summit. There, I talked with teenagers in high school, college dining coordinators, students who had never been involved in any sustainability efforts, interns and researchers. After a workshop on organic farming and certification, I sat down with the student who had led the discussion. We discussed composting and sustainable agriculture for a good hour. I learned about a huge range of issues dealing with food sustainability and food culture in the United States that helped inform my composting journey. The train ride there and back took up a good portion of the trip, but I’m glad I went.
I’m also the sustainability intern for my school’s food provider, Sodexo. Being in this position is a wonderful way to make the connection between the students, administration and dining. In addition to planning several Earth Day events, I help provide compost education at a waste sorting table located in a main dining facility on campus.
Still receiving unwavering support from my adviser and professors, and now Dining Services. I’m coming to the end of the first semester of this research. I’m excited and can’t wait to continue this journey. I have my concerns, but I’m ready to keep working on raising awareness, creating a student group for composting, proposing a campus-wide compost plan, pushing for implementation and ensuring the sustainability of a compost initiative at Lehigh after I graduate.
Please share any advice, information, knowledge or questions!
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