In February, the University will feature an important addition to promote its sustainability goals on campus: an in-vessel aerobic digester, according to the University’s Biodigester Blog.
According to the blog, the biodigester, from the food waste management organization Food, Organics, Recycling Solutions, can process some of the campus’s food scraps into useful soil. This is done by facilitating the decomposition process to a time span of approximately five days after mixing the waste with wood shavings to enhance resulting soil with nutrients, which can then be utilized in the University’s soil processing yard.
Though food recycling already takes place at the University, it is managed by a company off campus and requires a means of delivery, the blog indicates. With a biodigester directly on campus, the carbon emissions released during delivery can be reduced.
“There’s no industrial compost facility in the region, which means that zero-waste events aren’t possible,” explained Erin Mooz ’19, a member of the Princeton University Ecology Representative Program. “The on campus biodigester will create a lot of opportunities in terms of expanding types of materials that can be composted.”
The biodigester will also further improve the ecosystem on campus overall by providing high-quality, nutrient-rich soil on campus. This soil can promote the health of plants, which, in turn, is expected to reduce air pollution and increase the availability of freshwater on campus, according to the blog.
In addition to improving the physical health of the campus, the biodigester will serve as an educational opportunity, providing research opportunities to interested students, explained Campus as Lab fellow Gina Talt ’15 in an interview. Campus as Lab is a program at the University that provides opportunities to students to use the entire campus as a resource to study sustainability issues.
“The biodigester has the potential to serve as junior or senior thesis research projects for anyone interested in getting involved with the operation of the system,” Talt said. Research projects can involve studying the effectiveness of the biodigester in processing plastics such as compostable utensils and investigating different combinations of food waste and carbon agents.
Other educational opportunities apart from research are also made available with the introduction of the biodigester on campus, such as classroom learning. ENV 200: The Environmental Nexus and ENE 202: Designing Sustainable Systems are two such courses that will utilize the biodigester to facilitate learning, both of which are offered in the spring.
The biodigester is also expected to contribute to the presence of sustainability efforts on campus. With an abundance of educational opportunities as well as guided tours revolved around the composter, the introduction of the biodigester should raise environmental awareness and spark conversation about handling food waste on campus.
While the biodigester has been on campus since last December, it is only expected to begin composting starting next month, according to Talt.
“The biodigester has been installed, but is not yet operational,” Talt explained. “We still have a few remaining operational logistics to sort out, but we expect to begin operating the system shortly after the start of the spring semester.”