On an average weekday, more than 11,000 meals are served in the University’s dining centers; one quarter of these are carried out. And all those carryout containers go into landfillsor at least they did.

Campus Dining Services recently switched from Styrofoam containers to those made from a sugarcane fiber. Last fall, several University departments, along with students, ran a pilot program to test the feasibility of composting the containers at the University Farm at Lexington. Representatives from Campus Dining Services, University Housing Services, Health Sciences, University Recycling and the University Farm were involved.

During the week of November 9, Health Sciences Professor Tom Bierma’s students collected more than 1,500 carryout containers from Haynie, Wilkins, and Wright residence halls, and University Recycling delivered them to the farm. They found out the containers could be run through the bin grinder and added to the University’s compost medium.

There were a couple of challenges identified: containers held items that couldn’t be composted, such as plastic utensils and condiment packages; and they need a more efficient process for collecting and transporting the containers.

“While there are a few obstacles to overcome, we have a committed group of people from the University and community who are working together to find creative solutions,” Bierma said. “Sustainability is important to us and the University as a whole.”

The pilot committee, along with the University’s Sustainability office, Facilities and Midwest Fiber, are continuing to work on solutions. The group hopes to be able to implement composting of the containers on a larger scale in the future.