Kahn Hall Composting

Kahn Hall Composting

In the Spring of 2010, the Green EDGE Fund helped financed the College's first dorm-wide composting system, organized by the Compost Work Group and maintained by residents of Kahn Hall. The grant provided compost tumblers, a wheelbarrow, a hose, and scales for measuring the amount of compost generated.

Background premise:
Kahn Hall was chosen by the Compost Work Group and College administrators as a pilot site for a student-run compost system because of its sustainability theme and because its first year residents will develop the habit of composting as part of their experience at Oberlin. The students will collect data on how much food waste the residence hall produces by weighing the food waste before it is put into the tumbler, which is located behind the dorm. If the pilot project goes well, the Compost Work Group will work with its administrative team to expand the model to include more residence halls on campus.

Cost-benefit estimation:
The 85 kg of food waste that the average person produces in a year breaks down into 1.8 kg CH4 and 38.5 kg CO2 if sent to a landfill. In a dorm of 150 students, composting food waste could save up to 270 kg of CH4 and 5370 kg of CO2, depending on the meal plan status and personal food usage of each student. These savings are especially impressive when one considers that CH4, also known as methane, is 21 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, making it conceivable that the Kahn Hall Compost Project could prevent up to the equivalent of 11040 kg of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere yearly. Additionally, using the compost as fertilizer throughout campus would not only obviate the need for energy-wasting conventional fertilizers but also sequester up to 2.5 pounds of carbon per square foot of soil, depending on the percent of organic matter introduced into the soil. The Fund allocated $1000 for the purchase of two compost tumblers, five bathroom scales, and a wheelbarrow.

Additional benefits:
esidence hall composting provides many social advantages for dorm life at Oberlin College.  As a pilot project, the composting model used in the new dorm will serve as a working model for composting in residence halls, ideally providing proof that residence hall composting is feasible. Beginning with a first-year dorm is especially beneficial because of the sense of community it will provide; the system will require the effort of nearly all residents, and is an exciting project to be a part of, receiving campus wide attention and support. By starting with a first-year dorm and making the sustainability pledge come to life, composting and sustainability become linked to the initial Oberlin experience. Students will be thinking about composting every day as they compost their food waste in the dorm; for many residents, the definition of trash will be redefined. They will have the opportunity to become environmentally active immediately upon arrival, and to develop important leadership and organizational skills – as this project is entirely student-run.