The Office of Sustainability, Building Services and Campus Dining have partnered so that food scraps from the dining hall are now handled by a local company, AgriArk, which will process them into fertilizer at a local facility.

Director of the Office of Sustainability Shana Weber explained that, for a long period of time, local options for composting food scraps were unavailable, with the closest facility located in Wilmington, Del. She added that they wanted to avoid using landfills to dispose of food scraps.

“Food waste is very heavy, therefore it is very expensive to landfill,” she said. “The other piece to that is more of an ethical consideration. Nutrients captured in food scraps should be reused.”

AgriArk, based in Hopewell, N.J., will partner with the University to process campus generated food scraps.

“[AgriArk] can produce a very high-quality compost from those food scraps and can then use the food compost as a growing media and fertilizer for an indoor greenhouse operation where they grow microgreens,” Weber said.

According to a December 2013 Daily Princetonian article, the company has been discussing this initiative with the Office of Sustainability since summer 2013.

AgriArk founder and CEO Rob Wisniewski was not available for comment.

In an interview with the ‘Prince’ in December 2013, Wisniewski noted the company’s composting technology was innovative and cost-efficient.

“It’s different than compost; it’s different than most fertilizers. We are not necessarily adding nutrients as much as we are fixing existing nutrients and adding a lot of microbe and fungal operations,” Wisniewski said, explaining such a difference makes the capital cost and operational cost very low.

Weber said that the University strives to partner with local organizations to support the ideal that food scraps and nutrients need to be captured in a principled way, without waste.

“This is a core idea in sustainability planning. Where you look at the whole system, in our case that is the campus, and you look at all of the items leaving the campus in various waste streams and think very carefully about what is the best pathway for any given waste stream,” she said. “We really want to try to embrace this concept that there should be no waste, that there can be output that can be useful for something else.”

Weber explained that in previous years, food scraps from the dining halls were sent to a local pig farmer who processed the food scraps into pig feed, making it so none of the University’s food waste went to landfills. According to Weber,the family who previously processed the food scraps was unable to do so anymore.

Weber said that how the campus handles its waste strains is part of the University’s sustainability plan. The sustainability plan will examine ways to develop a campus sustainably over time, is comprehensive and will emphasize the University as a demonstration of sustainable practices as a facility and in culture, she said.

“We run into questions all the time that we can’t answer. We often have these exciting partnerships with faculty and students using the campus as a living laboratory to start to fill in some of the gaps,” Weber said.

Executive Director of Campus Dining Smitha Haneef, who oversees the University’s residential and retail dining operations, noted that last semester a student-led project collected and quantified consumer waste in the dining halls.

Haneef said this initiative was part of the efforts by Greening Dining, a student-led group that works with Dining Services to develop sustainable practices and policies.

Reka Zempleni ’16, a member of Greening Dining, said that she is excited about the recent changes to compost in the dining hall.

“We’ve been bringing it up for a while, so it’s great that the change happened,” said Zempleni. “The impact that we have through our dining habits can add up quickly to be really big on the environment, therefore I think it is essential to pay attention to what we eat and where our food comes from.”
In addition to Greening Dining, Haneef said for the first time this year a student advisory board has been established.The board will focus on the subject of food and campus dining and is co-chaired by Ella Cheng ’16, she said.

Cheng is a former staff writer for the ‘Prince.’

“In our approach, our goal is to involve the students and partner with them in finding solutions,” Haneef said.

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