Grant expands Columbia College Chicago’s compost program

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Reduce your carbon footprint: Student orientation leader Goli Parvinian composts food scraps on campus. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Columbia College Chicago was recently awarded a grant by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to implement a more comprehensive composting program across campus. This $5,000 grant will allow the college to reach more of the campus with the goal to divert 13 tons of food scrap waste from landfills in 2012-2013, almost double the 2011-2012 school year’s achievement of seven tons.

“Expanding compost efforts allows an opportunity to educate the community about this new reduction process that will help lower the school’s carbon footprint,” explained John Wawrzaszek, sustainability manager at Columbia College. “The mission of the college is to educate students who will communicate creatively and shape the public’s perceptions of issues and events, and environmental sustainability is one of today’s most important issues.”

Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter, such as food waste, into a soil fertilizer. The college’s pilot compost program began in 2011 as an extension of the recycling program diversion efforts, focusing on campus cafes and catered events, with the Columbia College Library acting as a partner since the inception of the program. The 2012 expansion will now include faculty, staff and student spaces.

To save fossil fuels and reduce their carbon footprint, the college’s food scrap waste is picked up by a local hauler Resource Center and processed at a facility owned by Land and Lakes. After scraps are broken down, they become a “soil amendment,” or nutrients to be added back to the soil to beautify landscapes and grow food plants. Practicing a “closed loop” approach, Columbia has used this product in campus landscaping efforts.

“The college takes a holistic approach to campus-wide sustainability as is shown through our online Sustainability Roadmap that guides our campus events, purchases and practices,” said Alicia Berg, vice president of campus environment. “Columbia College’s sustainable practices include all aspects of campus life.”

In 2010, the college’s first newly constructed building, its Media Production Center, attained LEED Gold certification. Additionally, the remodeled fifth floor of 33 E. Congress is LEED Silver Certified, and all renovation projects are built in accordance with LEED standards. Campus buildings have occupancy sensors for lighting in 90 percent of occupied spaces, and nearly 50 percent of all campus buildings’ HVAC systems are controlled by Building Automation Systems.