Machine will make fertilizer of scraps
The Earth Tub takes recycling to a new level, leaving a greener campus.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Taking the lead among Ohio's universities, Youngstown State University has begun test operation of a machine that will turn its cafeteria food scraps into compost to be used as fertilizer for its lawns and shrubbery.
Test operation of the machine began last week, just after YSU became the first university in the state to receive an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency license to compost cafeteria food scraps on campus.
The 10,000 machine, known as the Earth Tub, has been installed at the loading dock outside YSU's Christman Dining Commons, which generates 10 to 15 tons of food waste annually. Made by Green Mountain Technologies of Whitingham, Vt., the composting machine is a fully enclosed drum designed to control odors and keep rodents out. The Mahoning County Green Team funded its acquisition.
The university plans to begin regular operation of the tub, which is 4 feet high and 7 1/2 feet in diameter, when spring semester begins in January, said Dan Kuzma, manager of the university's recycling and reuse program.
Kuzma will give a presentation on YSU's food scrap recycling program at an Ohio Composting Association annual conference Friday in Wooster. "We're setting the example to follow for other universities and solid waste districts," said Kuzma, who received a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from YSU in 2004 and is now enrolled in the university's master's degree program in the same subject.
Less waste for landfills
"They are trend-setters in this, and it's definitely something we're supportive of," Mike Settles, the Ohio EPA's Northeast Ohio media coordinator, said of YSU's effort. "It's a wonderful way to recycle and to reduce the amount of waste going into our landfills," Settles added.
An Ohio Department of Natural Resources-sponsored waste audit performed in April 2005 found that 35 percent of YSU's waste came from food. "So I figured that was the next logical progress for our program," Kuzma said, explaining the university's entry into food waste composting.
Hospital, prison and school kitchens are among those that can perform institutional food waste composting, Kuzma said, adding that Rice University in Texas and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte use the Earth Tub to compost their food scraps.
The Earth Tub will receive 50 to 100 pounds of food waste daily, including vegetable preparation waste from the kitchen and post-consumer plate scrapings, through a loading hatch at the top of the machine. Because they are slower to decompose and generate more odor, meat wastes will be kept to a minimum in the tub, Kuzma explained.
The food waste will be mixed with shredded, recycled YSU office paper, which will be used as a bulking agent. A mixing auger will churn and shred the machine's contents once or twice a week to help them decompose.
Air will be drawn through the compost by an aeration system, and the exhaust air will be forced through a filtration system that removes odors. Waste liquids will drain from the tub into the sanitary sewer.
The tub is expected to fill to capacity around the end of each semester, at which time the tub's contents will bake for three or four weeks to form the finished fertilizer. The finished compost will be removed through a discharge door on the side of the machine. Kuzma said he hopes a food waste composting system will eventually be installed at the university's Kilcawley Center dining facilities.
The goal of composting is to turn waste materials into a useful product and keep these wastes from unnecessarily occupying valuable landfill space, Kuzma said. Yard and food wastes occupy about 24 percent of Ohio's landfill space, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates. YSU composts its grass clippings and other plant waste and uses the compost as fertilizer on its grounds.