The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and the City of Arlington combined their resources and sustainability visions to expand the UTA composting program. John Darling, part of UTA Facilities Management with the Grounds Department staff, has been composting on campus since its inception. He actually got the program started.
Darling shares, “I was encouraged to begin composting at UTA as a result of casual conversations with Craig Powell, then director of the Environmental Health and Safety Department (EH&S).” The program started out as a small compost pile behind the EH&S offices collecting campus tree leaves and out of date produce from grocery stores. The program was a great compliment to UTA’s sustainability initiatives and their recycling program, which has received local and national recognition. Several months into the program’s operation -25,000 pounds of diverted leaves and 100 pounds of diverted fruits and vegetables later- Beck Valentich, of UTA’s EH&S, and Lorrie Anderle, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Arlington, recognized the potential of the UTA composting program and the benefit to the city landfill and campus landscapes.
Becky and Lorrie collaborated on a proposal to the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) for a solid waste reduction grant to expand the UTA composting operation. They touch on how expansion would offer the chance to positively utilize a percentage of one of the campus’ largest waste stream – landscape debris, leaves, and food waste from dining services- as well as provide a learning opportunity for Grounds Department staff and the additional student workers that would be needed. Their efforts were successful and in 2006 the composting program was expanded with the $135,595 in grant funds.
The grant allowed the addition of water lines, concrete pads, hand tools, wheelbarrows, numerous other equipment and supply pieces, as well as additional staff, all coordinated on the grounds by Mr. Darling. The program also saw an influx of raw material from the campus. It became routine for grounds keepers to bring leaves to the site and a daily collection of food scraps was established by Darling utilizing a van that had also been purchased with the grant funds. Kitchen waste and coffee grounds were weighed as part of the grant, the practice continuing well after the grant period. To date, almost 207 tons of kitchen waste and many thousands of pounds of leaves have been diverted from the landfill (approximately 500 cubic yards of compost).
As head of the program, Mr. Darling has spoken to classes about the composting program, given various group tours, and hosted activities. A community garden on the UTA campus and city Master Composter classes were additional results of the composting program. Overall, the program has protected the ecosystem, conserved natural resources, and minimized the strain on UTA’s infrastructure. By using compost in the landscape, there has been a reduction in landscape watering, lessened soil erosion, and reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides. Integrating waste diversion did not prove to be a challenge with the campus and faculty’s predisposition to consider organic waste diversion in current sustainability practice.
In closing, Mr. Darling shared how the biggest problem was trying to find enough room and time to get all the leaves into compost piles before more started falling. He also shared that, “UTA purchased compost infrequently before the program began, but I am not aware of any purchases since the grant period ended. Between the demands of the community garden and the campus, all of the compost is used.”
*Written with a program brief provided by John Darling and solid waste grant information provide by Lorie Anderle.
*Read more about the UTA composting program here: https://sustainability.uta.edu/campus-initiatives/waste-reduction-recycling/recycling-and-composting-program/.