August 8, 2008

Engaging the Earth’s Natural Processes

My experience working with Lafayette’s composting initiative. By Jennifer Bell ’11

This summer, Jennifer Bell ’11 (Purcellville, Va.), a double major in geology and religious studies, is leading and performing research for Lafayette’s campus-wide composting initiative as an EXCEL scholar under the guidance of Art Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

  • Students, Faculty, and Administrators Collaborate on Composting Initiative

The composting program at Lafayette College is an exciting and innovative addition to the college campus and I am so glad to be a part of it.

The composting committee has built two different types of composting units. We built a three-bin system and a compost “tumbler.” Then, we started collecting food scraps from the Farinon Dining Hall every week and adding them to grass and leaves. In approximately two weeks, these materials would decompose into nutrient-rich topsoil.

My responsibilities included monitoring the compost piles for temperature and moisture, turning the piles, and picking through garbage to pull out plastic and Styrofoam items. We found Styrofoam ice cream cups, silverware, and blue plastic cups from Farinon, along with other plastic items all mixed in with garbage, in the form of a liquid slurry mess.

Since then, a group of dedicated LEAP (Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection) and SEES (Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists) members have been developing a very successful composting program. Our goal is to compost all of the food waste that is generated by all the college’s dining facilities.

We have spent the past year experimenting with how to most efficiently make the compost, and have found that the tumbler system worked best. We have now expanded our composting facilities to include five tumblers, a three-bin system, and a vermiculture (worm composting) system.

Being a geology and religious studies double major, I love learning about composting because it is one of the Earth’s natural processes. I have been able to work with geology professors, but also civil and environmental engineering, physics, and chemistry professors. It truly is a multidisciplinary project.

This summer, I’ve been working with Professor Art Kney through the EXCEL research program. Professor Kney has been involved with the composting project since it was first proposed in Fall 2006. So far this summer, I’ve been writing a grant proposal. If we receive the funding, the composting program will greatly expand and we should be able to compost all of the food waste produced at the campus dining facilities.

Working on the grant and the composting project has been a truly unique opportunity. I have been able to meet a lot of great people, including students, professors, staff, and administration, that I otherwise would not have had the chance to work with. Professor Kney has guided me, but has let me compose the first draft of the grant by myself, providing me with a truly invaluable learning experience.

I am so grateful to be a part of the Lafayette community. Lafayette’s small size and undergraduate focus has enabled me to take on this project as a freshman. I hope to continue to promote sustainability on campus and learn from the unique opportunities available at Lafayette such as the EXCEL research program.

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