Café McColl has gone green

Waste not

CompostCafé McColl has gone green. Now it takes just three seconds for diners to make a positive impact by tossing waste into three separate bins.

Thanks to a semester-long effort by students, faculty support, vendors and the facilities management team, UNC Kenan-Flagler debuted a new waste management initiative with the introduction of compost bins in Café McColl alongside new bins for recycling and trash.

A 2016 waste audit revealed that 30 percent of waste in McColl Building trash bins was compostable compared to 35 percent that was recyclable. The new composting initiative tackles these waste figures head on while fueling the School’s vision for sustainability – optimizing waste management by ensuring it’s disposed of in the most responsible way possible.

“While the priority should be to eliminate food waste, composting prevents food waste and other organic materials from going to the landfill, where its decomposition creates methane – a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” says Professor Carol Hee.

A group effort

Student research showed that a successful composting program requires educating people about proper waste disposal – namely, showing people which items are compostable. There’s a risk the partnership with the composting firm could fall through if there’s too much contamination in the compost bins.

MBA students in the Net Impact Club helped with the education – explaining and guiding diners to correctly use the new bins in Café McColl.

“Having the bins staffed was a huge part of minimizing the contamination rate and removing contaminants from the bins while answering any questions as people threw their garbage away,” says undergraduate student Samantha Buckshon, who participated in the project.

The students took extra measures to maximize use of the composting bins – working with Keegan O’ Connor, Café McColl’s assistant manager, and Christen Jester, manager, to switch nearly all packaging to compostable materials while removing items that could cause contamination.

Adjustable signage hangs near the bins, displaying current packaging materials and other waste items grouped according to the bins in which they belong.

“As a new item is taken on or off the menu, we’re able to adjust the signage,” says Paul Peterson, director of facilities at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “The signage is purposefully simple to make learning easy because that’s so important for this project.”

After the semester of preparation, the project came together in time for an Earth Week rollout with help from UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Housekeeping Services crew, UNC’s Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling and Carolina Dining Services.

The composting initiative dovetails with the objectives established in the campus Sustainability Plan, including Chancellor Folt’s Three Zeros Initiative, which puts the University on the path to water neutrality, zero waste going to landfills and greenhouse gas neutrality.