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UGA teams up with Athens to promote composting

By Kristen Linthicum/UGA Today

In late January, nearly 400 steel trash cans appeared at the ends of driveways in Athens’ Normaltown, Boulevard and Cobbham neighborhoods, attracting neighbors’ curiosity.

The bins advertised the launch of a compost pilot program jointly conducted by the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department and the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute, a consortium of UGA experts in green engineering. Funded by a Walmart Foundation grant, the program allows participants to dispose of compostable materials and food scraps in steel bins that are emptied once a week by ACC Solid Waste.

Composting—the recycling of organic matter like food waste—can play a critical role in a community’s sustainability efforts, said Evan White, an assistant research scientist faculty member who leads UGA’s participation in the pilot program.

“Food waste is the No. 1 contributor to landfill waste—about 25%,” White said. “Composting produces a better environmental outcome and expands the lifecycle of the landfill.”

Importantly, he noted, every one pound of food scraps composted saves about one pound of carbon dioxide emitted from landfills. The pilot program’s participants have been deeply engaged, both participating in weekly composting and completing surveys from ACC to evaluate their experiences.

The pilot program will conclude on May 3, and ACC will conduct a final survey of participants. ACC and the New Materials Institute will evaluate the survey results, present their findings to the Athens-Clarke County Commission, and make relevant recommendations for future composting programs in Athens.

Community-wide partnerships

The pilot program is just one example of the way that ACC and UGA team up to promote sustainability.

“We coordinate with ACC Solid Waste on all composting efforts,” said Ella Filston, the waste reduction coordinator in UGA’s Office of Sustainability. “We could not do what we do without ACC, and it’s awesome that they’re an amazing solid waste department.”

The university pays ACC Solid Waste to pick up compostable materials on campus and transport them to the county’s processing facility at the landfill. Compost is collected across campus, including at the dining halls, at food scrap drop off locations, and at zero waste events on campus.

For more than a decade, UGA’s five dining halls have participated in composting. Since 2018, the dining halls have composted all food prep and plate waste. UGA’s Office of Sustainability also manages a campus composting program, in which UGA faculty, staff and students place food scraps in more than 120 composting bins across campus that are collected weekly by student interns. ACC then collects the compost from a central location and processes it.

In addition to the physical composting efforts, UGA and ACC partner on waste reduction education initiatives. The two entities have shared educational graphics and have aligned messaging to provide customers with consistent information on recycling and composting practices.

“Our partnership is invaluable financially and creatively,” said Suki Janssen, director of ACC Solid Waste. “Our partnership provides opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have. It makes us all more efficient and sustainable. We are sharing resources and knowledge. We are better together.”


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