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UW-Eau Claire and Veolia Partner to Launch Commercial Compost Program

RELEASED: April 8, 2009

EAU CLAIRE — Nearly 2 tons of waste a week is being diverted from an Eau Claire landfill thanks to a recently established composting program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In late January, UW-Eau Claire and its refuse management provider, Veolia Environmental Services, launched a full composting program at the university, making it one of the first commercial composting programs in the area, said Mark Thornton, director of operations for Blugold Dining at UW-Eau Claire.

"Our goal is to offer composting to all Blugold Dining customers and to compost at all food production stations to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills," said Thornton. "I'm quite pleased with the progress so far. On average, Blugold Dining is diverting nearly 2 tons from the landfill each week. While we're satisfied, we will continue to work to increase the number of people who participate in the program."

The composting partnership with UW-Eau Claire is an exciting new venture for Veolia, said Mark Vinall, general manager of Veolia ES Solid Waste Midwest.

"Obviously, the technology is not new," Vinall said of food composting. "It is a natural process. But to actively plan and coordinate a project like this and see it come to fruition is a step in a new direction concerning ways of managing the waste that is generated. It's very exciting."

UW-Eau Claire and Veolia launched a weeklong composting pilot program in fall 2008 in the university's Davies Center and Hilltop Center, Thornton said. The pilot was successful, so they moved forward with a full composting program at the start of the 2009 spring semester, he said.

"Composting is another way we can reduce the volume of trash we're putting into the landfill," said Christian Wise, food services director at UW-Eau Claire. "The compostable materials take just one month instead of the many — sometimes hundreds — of years it can take for other things to degrade. It's a win-win for everyone."

Special trash containers in which people can dispose of compostable materials are now located near all dining areas on upper and lower campus and in the dining services' kitchens, Wise said. Student-created signage makes clear what bins are available for the compostable products, and students are sometimes stationed at the bins to explain the program, he said.

In addition to food, a variety of other biodegradable products can be placed in the compost bins at UW-Eau Claire, Wise said, noting that the university now uses biodegradable plates, cups and utensils in all its retail dining areas.

Veolia has a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources-approved yard waste compost site that the DNR is allowing it to use for the food composting project with UW-Eau Claire, Vinall said. The site is located adjacent to Veolia's Seven Mile Creek Landfill in Eau Claire.

The company has a garbage truck with a dedicated food waste collection route, Vinall said. Workers weigh the load, unload it at the compost site and mix the food waste with the yard waste at the site, he said. The mix of yard waste and food waste is monitored for temperature and is observed for things like odor, he said. The mix is turned to distribute moisture throughout the pile and to ensure there is adequate oxygen in the pile to maintain an aerobic condition, he said.

"There is significant interest in food waste composting," Vinall said, adding that he hopes to expand the program to include more businesses in Eau Claire that generate food or organic waste. "Many businesses feel that composting food waste, which reduces waste being deposited into a landfill, is a sustainable venture and better for the environment and the community in which they live and work. Clearly, reducing the amount of waste that goes into a landfill is beneficial to all of us. However, there is some lively debate concerning the potential upside of landfilling organic waste at many landfills — including Veolia Seven Mile Creek Landfill — where they actively collect the methane gas generated from the breakdown of organic waste and convert that gas into electricity."

Vinall said Veolia should have a better understanding of the overall success of the food waste composting program later in the summer as the expected rate of decomposition increases.

For more information about the composting program at UW-Eau Claire, contact Mark Thornton at 715-836-4933 or Christian Wise at 715-836-5261.



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