In-person convocation and chapel, free coffee in the library and DIY waffles are back. But one pre-COVID campus staple has yet to see a rebound: composting.The composting operation that once kept food waste from the dining hall out of the landfill was suspended over a year ago due to safety concerns around COVID-19 and new dining practices. But this fall, students are noticing its absence.
“It is surprising to see how nothing is really happening,” said Jackson Steinmetz, a junior who volunteered with the composting initiative in the past. “All of the first and second-years have never seen composting at the college and are confused why there are composting signs. It is really disappointing to see all the food waste going straight into the garbage.”
The composting program in the Westlawn Dining hall was started by students from the Ecopax club over 10 years ago and has been carried out in collaboration with AVI and the Physical Plant since then.
“We had a team of five to ten volunteers that signed up for days,” said Liam Elias, a senior who helped with the project in the past. “After dinner, we would go to the composting bins in the Rott and pull the compost out and dump it in the crate out back. The Physical Plant was responsible for keeping the wood chips stocked and moving the crates once they were full.”
Workers at the Rott have still been doing some composting of pre-consumer waste, like melon rinds and other scraps that never make it onto the plate. But a lack of student volunteers and support from the Physical Plant, means the operation is limited, said Jeremy Corson, resident director of AVI at Goshen.
While most of the collecting of compostable food happens throughout the school year, it’s during the warm summer months that the compost is processed at the Physical Plant. The start of the pandemic coincided with the retirement in July 2020 of Glenn Gilbert, former director of facilities and sustainability coordinator at Goshen College.
With no one hired to take over that job, the campus may not be ready to support the return of a larger-scale operation, explained Corson.
There is currently no concrete plan to reboot the program and it has become unclear who is responsible to start and lead the operation.
“It has always depended on student involvement,” said Glenn Gilbert, former director of facilities and sustainability coordinator at Goshen College. “The college can’t staff it.”
But Elias doesn’t think the responsibility should fall on students alone. “I think it should be a collective effort by everyone,” he said. “Students should organize. The Physical Plant and AVI need to be included in the planning.”
“The Physical Plant is willing and has in the past changed the bins,” Gilbert said. However, it seems clear that composting in the dining hall will not resume until a group of motivated students take up the project.
“I would encourage any students wanting to reboot the system to contact the director of facilities, Cynthia Good Kaufmann,” Gilbert said.