Thanks to a new partnership between Virginia Tech Dining Services and Poplar Manor Enterprises LLC (PME), the Southgate Food Processing Center on campus has reduced the amount of food waste it sends to the local landfill each week by as much as 2.5 tons.

The composting program, which was put into action on Jan. 20, is part of a larger Dining Services initiative to explore sustainable alternatives.

“What we’re focusing on is changing the way that our employees think, and the habit of just tossing things in the trash,” said Steve Garnett, the unit manager for the Southgate Food Processing Center. “We’re trying to teach our staff that we want them to reduce, reuse, and recycle — in that order of priority.”

Each week, the Southgate Food Processing Center saves all compostable pre-consumer waste, including chopped vegetables, peelings, and cores, in 48-gallon containers provided by PME. At the end of each week, staff members from PME empty and clean the full containers and leave them to be filled again. The collected food waste is then driven to the PME facility in Riner, Va., where it begins a six-month process that will convert it to compost.

To prepare the current employees at the Southgate facility, PME and Dining Services held a special training program to ensure that all questions about the new containers were addressed and answered. The training included the distribution of informational fliers, a roundtable meeting, and a special talk on sustainability by Mark Smallwood, the Mid-Atlantic green specialist for Whole Foods, during Dining Services’ department-wide training in January.

“We had worries at first that it was going to be complicated, as far as figuring out how to sort and separate everything, but it’s very quickly become second nature for the staff,” said Garnett. “It’s been great being able to head up the pilot program for this sort of initiative.”

The composting program, one of the first of its kind for a university in the area, has so far seen early success. Southgate has been able to reduce the amount of landfill waste sent out each week by as much as 2.5 tons, and the university is looking to expand the composting program to post-consumer waste as well, with Owens Food Court planned as the next location for a pilot program.

Written by Chris Gustin

Share this story