The Lawrence University Environmental Organization was founded by current senior Jim Yang in fall 2018 and has had a relatively consistent small group of devoted students ever since. Junior Lauren Kelly joined during Spring Term 2019 and is now the co-president with Yang. Though the pandemic has put a damper on some of their environmental progress on campus, the two still wanted to share what their club has done and how to compost on campus.
Jim Yang – Guest Writer
I founded the LU Environmental Organization at the beginning of my sophomore year in 2018 with the idea of providing all the residence halls of Lawrence with composting services as well as the idea of becoming an environmental committee on the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC).
There was no composting in the residence halls at the time, and I heard that composting had come and gone before at Lawrence, so, I wanted to provide a service that would last. I figured that the environment was important enough of an issue that Lawrence ought to have a student-led environmental committee on LUCC because, at the time, the previous environmental committee on LUCC no longer existed, and the Sustainability Steering Committee was heavily staff- and faculty-based. While the committee route did not end up working out, we became a club instead and started on a pilot project for composting in Plantz and Colman in the fall of 2018.
Since then, and before the pandemic, the club has added composting in all of the major residence halls and four academic buildings — the Conservatory, the Diversity and Intercultural Center, the fourth floor of Briggs and the Steitz atrium — as well as instituting battery recycling in all of the major residence halls. Composting and battery recycling have all come with educational signage that tells students why these acts matter.
Other projects that we have worked on include:
•Requesting funding for stickers that say, “These Come from Trees” and putting them on paper towel dispensers across campus to remind students to use fewer paper towels in 2019.
•Working with Julie Severance, the general manager of Bon Appétit, to replace the paper boats for dine-in orders for the Cafe with reusable plates in 2020.
•Getting rid of plastic bags in Kate’s Corner Store in 2019. This was done by working with Bon Appétit manager Justin Yager, putting up educational posters, surveying students and putting up and gathering petitions across campus, culminating in gaining a support statement through LUCC on the project. In place of plastic bags, the Corner Store offered either paper bags or reusable bags for purchase.
•One long-term project that we have worked on since the fall of 2018 includes striving to get rid of paper towels in the residence hall bathrooms, with the alternative option of encouraging students to bring their own hand towels as well as providing hand towels to those who need them. Kitchens and kitchenettes would still have paper towels. We put up educational signage and petitions across campus on this issue. A LUCC and LU Environmental Organization survey on paper towels in Oct. of 2019 brought in 192 “yes” votes to 154 “no” votes — a 55 percent approval. When the LU Environmental Organization sought approval through LUCC, LUCC deemed that the survey was biased. So, we tried again with a survey through the Student Welfare Committee that was conducted this term; it included the provision of paper towels being available in a designated first-floor public bathroom, having hand sanitizer available and that if it were approved, the project would not occur until post-pandemic. This new survey brought in 201 “somewhat” or “strongly agree” responses to 151 “somewhat” or “strongly disagree” responses — a 57 percent approval.
•An upcoming project is to provide all of the major residence halls with electronics recycling bins as well as accompanying signage, which the Sustainability Steering Committee approved. I had applied for funding for the Big Green Box. This box takes in electronics and is currently located at the Info Desk, but having electronics recycling bins in the residence halls would make electronics recycling more accessible.
The LU Environmental Organization’s mission is to take student ideas and turn them into projects — it was my roommate’s idea to get rid of plastic bags in the Corner Store, for example. Please let us know if you have any ideas on how Lawrence can be more sustainable.
Lauren Kelly – Op-Ed Editor
If you didn’t know before reading Jim’s half of the article, composting on campus has been an option for every campus community member along with recycling and the landfill route since Fall 2018 (except for Spring Term 2020). The LU Environmental Organization assists the Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens (SLUG) with collecting compost from most residence halls and, before the pandemic, most academic buildings. LU Environmental Organization’s volunteers are responsible for maintaining a compost bin and ensuring that it gets emptied regularly on the compost pile at SLUG, which is located at the bottom of Memorial/SLUG Hill.
Despite the pandemic, compost bins are currently available for on-campus students to use on every floor of Hiett (third-floor entryway and first-, second- and fourth-floor kitchens), the lobby of Plantz, the third-floor kitchen of Brokaw, the main entrance and kitchen of Colman, the entryway of Ormsby (with the third-floor coming soon), the kitchen of Sage and the lobby of Trever.
After you’ve located your compost bin and are ready to compost, you might wonder what is compostable. SLUG Garden Manager senior Phoebe Eisenbeis says that SLUG accepts “all fruit and vegetable scraps as well as non-oily other food waste but no meat, paper products or plastic of any kind (even if it says it is compostable). [SLUG] is still a small, backyard style composting system.” Some common items are banana peels, eggshells, spinach leaves, orange peels and apple cores — but please, do not put pizza or wrappers in there, as volunteers will have to sort it out manually. If you need a reminder about what you can compost, many compost bins should have informational signage near them too.
SLUG takes care of Bon Appétit and even off-campus locations’ compost. According to Eisenbeis, during non-COVID times, SLUG “composts five days a week. We collect from local coffee shops and businesses as well as from Bon App. About two or three [SLUG club members] are assigned to each day of the week and volunteer about one hour of their time composting per week.” Eisenbeis continued, “We use our own vehicles or a truck from Facility Services to get this done, as the compost can be really, really heavy (upwards of 100 pounds per bin). Right now, [SLUG is] only collecting compost from Bon App two days a week: Wednesday and Friday at 4 [p.m.]. Anyone is welcome to join! Meet at [the] Info Desk on either day if interested!”
This partnership between the LU Environmental Organization and SLUG makes it possible for a wider group of people to compost, which is a truly amazing resource to have on campus. After all, with all of the food that many students bring back to their rooms, it’s great to dispose of compostable food in compost bins, so, they don’t make rooms smell! Of course, it’s also a great way to support SLUG and reduce the amount of food waste going to landfills. Once the compost pile starts breaking down into the soil, SLUG will “use [it] on [their] beds to amend the soil every year, […as they] aim to be a more closed-loop, sustainable garden.”
Phoebe also mentions that “SLUG has recently switched leadership structure to a non-hierarchical Board of Directors. Starting Spring Term, we will have a designated Compost Director. This is a really exciting and new opportunity to hopefully learn more about compost and how we [all] can use food scraps more effectively in the garden.” The LU Environmental Organization is also working with the new LUCC Ad-Hoc Sustainability Committee to add compost bins to every floor of every major residence hall. If you live in group housing in the Quad, a loft or in Little or Big Exec and do not currently have a compost bin, please reach out to SLUG, the LUCC ad-hoc committee or the LU Environmental Organization to get one.
If you have any questions or sustainability ideas, are interested in joining the LU Environmental Organization — whether that be the mailing list or attending virtual meetings on Sundays at 2 p.m. CST — or would like to take out a compost bin, please reach out to Lauren Kelly at email@example.com or Jim Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope that you’ll help Lawrence become even more sustainable and that you will compost!