Spring has sprung in Evanston, meaning beach days, t-shirts and… composting! Composting is the process of breaking down organic materials to create fertilizer that brings nutrients to plants and soil for farming and gardening. This practice can provide Northwestern students with an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint, get outside and become better informed on waste management.
Weinberg second-year Kelly Teitel, a member of the student organization Cats Who Compost (CWC), says the club provides troughs behind Hillel, Sheil Catholic Center and the University Christian Ministry for all Wildcats to drop their food scraps and biodegradable materials. The compost is picked up by Evanston-based waste management service Collective Resource, who return it to the club as nutrient-rich soil that is then sent to the Wild Roots Garden club for their garden outside Norris. CWC undertook a range of projects this quarter, from a waste-reduction challenge in the dining halls during Earth Week in April to collaborative events with other sustainability organizations.
“I found composting to be a really fulfilling and simple way to witness how much I can reduce my waste by just placing compost in the [trough] instead of the trash — I just found that really gratifying,” Teitel says.
Teitel hopes the resources and education CWC provides will incentivize more students to try composting in the future. She says composting alone can be expensive, so the services CWC provides are a much better option for Northwestern students.
1. Choose a container
Teitel says virtually any kind of container works for collecting compost. She recommends a screw-on jar or a bucket and suggests students empty it in the troughs once a week to avoid strong odors.
“Even [for] off-campus students, the locations are around campus, so on your way to class it’s very convenient, and you don’t have to pay for these services,” Teitel says.
If you want to create your own composting system, you can collect your scraps in the same way, but you’ll need an outdoor space for your pile. Some options include plastic bins or wooden troughs.
2. Collect your materials
Specific requirements depend on the compost collection service, but most services accept both “browns” and “greens.” Browns encompass leaves, straw, wood chips or paper, whereas greens include food scraps and grass clippings.
3. Maintain your compost.
CWC makes this easy with troughs for all students! If you’ve dropped off your compost at the CWC-provided troughs, all your steps are finished and the composting process repeats.
If you’ve got your own system, air and water are key. To best decompose the fertilizer, the compost should be damp — not too wet and not too dry. Air is also crucial. The more oxygen in the system, the faster you will get your final product. This involves rotating the pile frequently so air can reach the bottom.