‘Com-poster Children’ encourage students, reduce waste
As part of the Office of Sustainability’s Green Ambassador program, 32 students were hired this semester to become compost ambassadors or “com-poster children.” The ambassadors have stood by the waste disposal areas in Bear’s Den and the DUC to advise students throwing away their trash about what can be composted, what can be recycled and what should be headed to the landfill.
The compost ambassador concept developed as a result of past difficulty with encouraging students to compost and recycle.
“It’s [been] hard to start a conversation and have a good tone,” fifth-year student Wende Oswald, one of two waste reduction and division interns heading the program, said.
The idea behind the “com-poster children” was that putting someone in front of the landfill would facilitate direct contact with the students throwing out their waste.
Oswald explained that she and her fellow intern were responsible for implementing a grant from the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District and heading the Green Ambassador program.
“Standing literally in front of the landfill…forces them to engage with you rather than trying to reach out to them, and that gives them responsibility,” Oswald said.
According to Oswald, feedback has been mostly positive and students were happy to have the compost ambassadors there because many students don’t know the general guidelines for proper waste removal. The DUC, for instance, doesn’t have a composting bin—students have to leave compostable material on their plates to be separated later.
The program was also made to educate students about items not recyclable in St. Louis because they are made of Number 6 plastic, which recycling plants in the region cannot process. This includes plastic utensils and Solo Cups.
Some students were appreciative of the compost ambassadors’ guidance.
“They were helpful because it’s not always clear where you should and shouldn’t compost,” senior Moira Moynihan said. “Last year, there were workers who would say, ‘Oh, you have to scrape off your plate,’ and this year, it’s helpful to have people who definitely know whether things are compostable or recyclable. “
Senior Alena Wigodner, one of the compost ambassadors, was happy to find that many students were interested in learning about proper waste removal.
“It was very gratifying to see students and staff interested and engaged in the composting process,” Wigodner said. “I loved seeing more and more people get the hang of it over time.”
Not all students were particularly receptive to the compost ambassadors’ presence.
“I think that we can police ourselves in terms of recycling and trash. I don’t think we need people standing there telling us what to do,” senior Hayley Levy said. “Composting is a great idea, but I think we can do it ourselves.”
Regardless of student reaction, the compost ambassadors’ efforts have produced results. Compared to last fall, the waste conversion rate increased from 50 percent to 90 percent, meaning that 90 percent of students’ waste was either composted or recycled, according to data calculated by the Green Ambassador program.
“I heard from three people over the course of a month with negative reactions, and that was general not caring about the environment,” Oswald said. “When you think about how much waste the University creates, that 40 percent is humongous.”
The group’s next step is to improve signage on campus so that compost ambassadors are no longer necessary, based on research that color-coding images is the most effective way to educate students about proper waste removal.
“We’re going to be updating all the labels [on the garbage cans],” Oswald said. “That way, it’s as easy as possible for students.