Over the course of two and a half months this winter, the University of Richmond campus recycled 12,300 pounds of cardboard, drink containers, and paper — an impressive demonstration of the community’s commitment to environmental sustainability. But the 48,900 pounds of trash generated during the same period bring up a different issue — or as a group of dedicated students see it, an opportunity.
Starting last fall, Michael Rogers, ’11, and Carly Vendegna, ’10, led the effort to start an on-campus composting project, which they call URot, as a landfill alternative for resident students. Working with Backyard Farmer, a local company with expertise in organic gardening and composting practices, Rogers and Vendegna asked, “What can we do in a year on this campus?”
This emphasis on being realistic is a foundation of sustainability. You can build on a great idea, but who continues the project when students leave campus after their four years?
So URot started small, focused, and with energy. On March 21, students installed 10 composting units near the University Forest Apartments. During the coming year, two students will carry the URot torch, and Backyard Farmer staff will maintain the bins while offering educational workshops. Eventually, trained Richmond students will maintain the units.
Participants collect their kitchen scraps in biodegradable bags and drop off the contents in receiving bins at the compost site. When these bins are full, the material is layered into other bins, and moved through a series of units as it decays.
This system can manage 8,000 pounds of waste every 90 days. URot’s goal is to make the compost available to the University's community garden and other gardens on campus.
Rogers, who grew up composting, sees the collaborative project as a perfect fit for campus. “Because we have a high population density we’re able to do more than sprawling places that have less community interaction,” he says.
It is also a model for other communities. Rogers says that because the University’s student body is representative of the American political spectrum, “If it can work here, it can work anywhere.” As an urban studies major, that’s important to him. “It’s not just a pile, it’s a professional product that other people could replicate in their own businesses and backyards.”
The project seems to come at the right time for Richmond. GreenUR, the student group behind Environmental Awareness Week and Recyclemania, is gaining momentum and increasingly coordinating with staff who work in related areas. A composting project is also underway in the dining hall.
Initial support for URot came from GreenUR, the Westhampton and Richmond college student government associations, and the Class of 1992 Environmental Awareness Endowment. “I appreciated the foresight those students had almost 20 years ago,” Rogers said of the class gift support.
This summer, Rogers is monitoring the units and looking for ways to promote and refine the process. “Our project seeks to both educate and allow an alternative to the landfill,” says Rogers. “If we can do both of those things then I believe the project will be a success.”