Zero Waste: University Embraces Food and Farm Composting

Thursday, January 14 2010

Written by Jeannie Matheison

MOSCOW, Idaho – At the University of Idaho Commons food court, disposable plastic silverware is being replaced with compostable ‘spud ware,’ a potato starch-based silverware. Also, sugar cane fiber plates and paper-based to-go clamshells are replacing Styrofoam products that can only be tossed into the trash bin.

Campus Dining, in collaboration with the university’s Sustainability Center food system subcommittee, is systematically replacing disposable, single-use food service products with serve ware that is reusable, compostable or recyclable. So, when grabbing that bite to eat at the Commons, customers will find nearly everything on the tray is now compostable or recyclable with the exception of straws, pop and coffee cup lids, chip bags, ketchup packets and dipping sauce cups.

“We have worked for two years to set up composting for Campus Dining on campus, and everything is now coming together,” said Darin Saul, Sustainability Center director. “All pre- and post-consumer food waste from Campus Dining, including Bob’s, the residence halls cafeteria, will now be composted. This will amount to 70-100 tons of food waste being composted rather than thrown away, and should amount to approximately a 90 percent reduction in waste from Campus Dining.”

Embracing a zero waste philosophy, the success of the Food and Farm composting program relies on everyone’s willingness to properly sort leftovers. Volunteers will be on hand in the food court to educate customers and demonstrate how to sort materials into recycling, composting, and garbage containers.

Collaboration between Campus Dining and the Palouse Research, Extension and Education Center--the university’s dairy, beef and sheep units and Parker and Kambitsch Plant Science Farms--initiated through the Sustainability Center food system subcommittee, will result in the Food and Farm composting program. In addition to food waste and paper towels from campus buildings, PREEC will compost animal carcasses, manure, and animal bedding at PREEC composting bays.

According to Donn Thill, PREEC superintendant, “the university livestock facilities currently land apply all manure from the beef and dairy operations, which serves as a source of fertilizer for our pasture, hay, and crop lands. Upwards of 100 tons of dairy manure now will be mixed with the food waste in the composting process.”

Finished compost will be used as animal bedding at PREEC or applied to landscaped areas of campus as a soil amendment.

“Future feedstock for Food and Farm composting will include all Campus Dining venues, catering operations and events at the Kibbie Dome,” said Mike Thomsen, Campus Dining director of operations. “Campus Dining is reaching beyond composting by donating a portion of our used oil for conversion to biodiesel. Remaining oil will be donated to the university dairy for use as a food supplement for dairy cows rather than being thrown away.”

To become a food court volunteer helping customers sort leftovers into recycling, composting and garbage bins, contact Jackie Sandmeyer at the Sustainability Center at (208) 885-0181 or

As increasing environmental awareness drives interest in sustainable practices, the University of Idaho continues to seek carbon reduction initiatives to meet the current and future needs of society and to contribute to the quality of life and the natural resources in Idaho, the nation and the world. The University of Idaho emitted some 38,981 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2007, which is equal to 3.59 tons per student. The university has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030 and has begun the work to reduce carbon emissions across operations. For more information about the university’s sustainability efforts, contact the University of Idaho Sustainability Center at or visit
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit