About 400 pounds of food is wasted per day from 5-8 p.m. in Douglass Dining Hall alone. Our institution is among those represented in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) report, a comprehensive data report on sustainable institutional initiatives across the U.S. It specifically tracks the percentage of food waste, where the Dining Green Team submits their collective data. Currently, UR has an overall sustainability score of 56.35 out of 100, but 0.97 out of 8 points for Waste Minimization and Diversion, according to the December 2021 report.
Sophomore Allison Roll, a representative of Dining Team Green, said that she and a few others literally do the scraping to report data on how much waste accumulates in Douglass Dining during the dinner hours.
“We hand scrape the food from the conveyor belt into the buckets, and I’m not going to lie, working for Dining Team Green, I did not expect to basically become a garbage girl,” Roll said in an interview with CT. Laughing as she said this, she went on to explain the more serious reason behind such a hands-on effort.
“We do the work because we care about it a lot,” Roll said. “I feel that no one is exempt from taking responsibility for taking care of the environment. We all as living beings who live off the Earth have a responsibility to take care of the environment.”
With the goal of creating more approachable composting systems on campus, Roll now has a new sustainable project. Through applied funding from Residential Hall Association (RHA), Roll was able to invest in Lomi, an automated compost system that will reside on Burton 1, the GreenSpace residential floor.
“I learned about Lomi through a YouTube ad,” Roll said. “Funny enough, I just saw it, and I said, ‘this is perfect.’ As a chemical engineer, it really interested me how the mechanism worked.”
Lomi is a new technology that can break down food waste into natural compost. “Lomi is basically an automatic version of the natural decomposition process. It takes it and automates it. It’s the first of its kind, which is very exciting,” she said. According to Roll, it breaks down waste in three ways:
- Applying heat
- Convections (grinding the food into smaller pieces)
Roll explained that for microbes, “Lomi pods” have to be put in every load of food waste in order for the microbes to properly break down the food. This will result in a biodegradable dirt that can be used as plant fertilizer. Unlike most composting systems, Lomi can compost animal products, such as small bones. Another huge benefit is that it is odorless, and can convert waste to compost in as little as four hours.
Roll plans on using the resulting compost in the Gilbert community garden so that GreenSpace can give back to the community. “It’s very exciting to see our food waste that would otherwise have gone in the trash and become methane emissions polluting the environment, to go to our community and to our food,” she said.
There are three modes that can be used with Lomi. “Grow Mode” is the most useful for Roll’s purposes, because while it takes the longest, it is also the most nutritious compost for gardening purposes. GreenSpace and possibly other sustainability student organizations will volunteer in the garden and have much more involvement in the process.
As a resident of GreenSpace, Roll is excited to introduce a new form of composting to her residents and possibly non-GreenSpace residents as well. She hopes that this system will inspire other composting systems in all residential halls. “I want Lomi [not only] to be a way to reduce food waste on the floor, but for it to be an educational tool to introduce people to compositing in a real way and not just talking about it in a theoretical sense,” Roll said. “I think that having a program actually seems much more palpable and doable than just talking about it. I feel like that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to encourage a more unified campus-wide movement to have more composting programs like this.”
Last semester, Roll was part of Dining Team Green when it was supposed to launch Roots and Shoots, which would have included the first ever post-consumer composting system on campus. However, due to COVID-19, and mainly staffing shortages, that fell through. Unfortunately, Roll says that there have been a lot of roadblocks to the administration implementing composting systems throughout campus.
“There’s only so much [Dining Green Team] can do,” Roll says. “I don’t know what’s going on on [administration’s] end. For some reason, maybe they feel like it’s not a priority. Given the resources it would take, they would need to employ someone to check compost is being sorted out properly.” According to the 2021 STARS report, UR ranks 0.87 out 5 points on the Sustainable Investment category, which specifies that 3 points means the institution spends less than $500 million. UR’s Sustainable Investment doesn’t even make the lowest point.
However, Roll says she can’t wait for the administration any longer. “There’s a certain point where I can’t keep waiting for the administration to do it. I feel that us doing it first is setting a good example for the school. We may even end up giving Lomi away to another organization and use our own composting system,” she said.
Because she acknowledges that the machine is expensive and can be exposed to damage if not used properly, Roll is planning to administer a test to make sure that everyone who uses Lomi is “Lomi certified.”
Roll will teach others how to operate it themselves so they can generate motivation for composting and feel like they’re part of the process. Giving the compost to the community garden on campus allows people to see the physical impact they are making by contributing to the compost system.
While it is more convenient and more inclusive of different types of compostable materials, Roll admits that Lomi isn’t a perfect solution to composting. It has to be shipped in order to use it. Roll says that you don’t need technology to live more sustainably. In some ways, technology is more of the problem than the solution. “However, it’s complicated,” Roll said. “We’re so used to living in a technology-dominated world. And I think that the use of technology is a useful way to integrate composting into our lifestyle in a more comfortable way and in a way that can introduce the idea.”
She feels that even if it is more technological or “somewhat more sterilized of an approach to compost, it’s still a step in the right direction.” While industries have a significant impact on the environment, especially by producing harmful materials like plastic, Roll believes that because households produce the most food waste, collectively and as individuals, we all have a huge impact.
“That’s why I believe not everything can be solved by industry either. We also have to change our lifestyles. Significant changes to everyday people’s lifestyles […] is the goal that we have to reach,” Roll said.
“I think [Lomi] is still a really important start.”