(Charlie Bier, University of Louisiana Lafayette) From composting biodegradable material to sending unsold meals to area food banks, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is making strides toward a waste-free campus.
UL Lafayette’s Zero Waste program was expanded in August at Cajun Field. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football fans had the option of dropping waste into one of two bins placed at stations inside the stadium: one for recycling, another for composting.
Over the course of six home games, 46.8 percent of recyclable and compostable materials was diverted from landfills.
The new composting initiative was added to the University’s existing recycling efforts.
Items such as paper plates, cups, utensils and drinking straws were sent to the University’s 600-acre Experimental Farm near Cade, La., to be converted to compost.
The farm, which is 15 miles from UL Lafayette’s main campus, is used for agricultural and sustainability research, education and outreach. It includes acreage for cattle, rice and sugar cane crops, wildflowers and native grasses, managed wetlands, and educational and research facilities.
In addition to providing eco-friendly fertilizer that will be spread on crops and vegetation at the farm, the compost will be used to educate students about its benefits. Compost, for example, releases less nitrogen into the air than chemical fertilizers, said Brian Kibbe, farm manager.
The composting process typically takes about two months, depending on factors such as size of the pile, materials it contains and weather, Kibbe explained. “Decomposition happens more quickly in hot, dry weather,”
Refuse collected at football games is only one part of the farm’s composting “recipe,” Kibbe said. “Hay, grass and tree clippings, livestock manure and agricultural waste from nearby sugar cane mills are also part of the mix.”
One item that didn’t get heaped on the compost pile: food that went unsold at football games, according to Gretchen Lacombe Vanicor, director of the University’s Office of Sustainability.
Dishes such as jambalaya, pasta, salads, hamburger patties – a total of 1,727 meals – were given to area food pantries. The project was coordinated with help from the University’s food service provider, Sodexo, and Second Harvest Food Bank in Lafayette.
“Rather than throw food away, we thought, ‘Why not distribute the leftover meals to help feed people?’” Vanicor said.
Beyond diverting trash from landfills and providing food for the hungry, the program offers service opportunities. About 160 students worked inside the stadium and mingled with tailgaters during football games to provide information to fans and guide them to the proper bins. Student volunteers also inspected materials collected to ensure a stray piece of plastic hadn’t made its way into the wrong container.
Vanicor expects the Zero Waste pilot program to grow. “If it continues to be successful – and I’m confident that it will – we’ll start looking at ways it can be expanded to other athletic events and other parts of campus,” Vanicor said.
The project is part of the University’s Living Lab, which is partially supported by the University’s Annual fund.
The “lab” promotes sustainability research projects for students such as a “smart-building” pilot program at Rougeau Hall. Sensors placed throughout that building monitor temperature, humidity and indoor air quality.
Learn more about University eco-friendly efforts at the Office of Sustainability.