We Conserve.

As you may or may not have noticed, last week at Harvest Handouts, there were 2 big green bins beside our produce stand.  These bins have been strategically placed (after being hauled across West Johnson every Friday before 1) to provide an additional service to all of our Harvest Handout attendees.

F.H. King, through both its bicycle-compost program and now Harvest Handouts, hopes to make composting as convenient as possible for Madison students and businesses because overall it is a remarkably simple way to reduce waste.  I can tell you from personal experience that the largest obstacles to composting all boil down to a lack of knowledge and/or convenience.

I “began composting” in late April after discussing its simplicity on numerous occasions with F.H. King’s Program Director Micah.  I had a big ugly bucket that I decided would make a perfect compost bucket.  Since I always chopped, diced and prepared vegetables on a counter in my kitchen nearest the stairs to the basement, I imagined placing the bucket on a shelf alongside these stairs would be a great place for my new brilliantly-well-thought-out compost bucket.

A month went by, and I was still throwing compost into the same bucket (although often times I just threw things away as it took too long to squish everything down, lower into the bucket).  My pail was thoroughly packed for at least a week before it was time for my boyfriend and I to leave on vacation.  At this point, still unsure of both a brilliant method for turning my compost as well as where I should dump it (and how I would get a drippy bucket of smelly compost anywhere on my bike), I left the disgusting, rotting bucket of compost on the shelf next to the stairs.

My boyfriend’s brother, who was house-sitting while we were gone on vacation, was not pleased by the hoards of fruit flies my lovely compost bucket attracted.  Our month of composting was immediately thrown into the trash (preceded by some cursing I’m sure).  Since my homecoming about a month ago, the problem has been solved and I’ve now learned to keep my compost bucket outside.  However, the overarching problem was still there: in the long-term, where does someone without a yard put compost?  When you live in a city, how can you make compost easy?

Through our Full-Cycle Freight Program, F.H. King encourages more people to compost by making it convenient.  Compost is picked up weekly by our bike compost interns and hauled away to the garden where it will be turned into beautiful soil.  Yet even though Full-Cycle Freight makes composting simpler for a lot of people in Madison, it doesn’t have the man-power to reach every student who lives downtown and attends the University of Wisconsin.

This is where those 2 big green compost bins, courtesy of We Conserve, come in handy.

The We Conserve program began in 2006 as a formalization of conservation efforts being discussed by the Physical Plant of the University of Wisconsin-Madison throughout the 1990’s.  The founders of the program wanted to illustrate that the university noticed their wasteful practices and wanted to work to minimize them.  Two formal goals were established:  “to instill the spirit of environmental stewardship in the community’s consciousness” and to reduce campus energy consumption by at least 20% by 2010.  From there, several strategies were outlines.

The program focuses its efforts on researching and investing in efficient systems, informing and educating people, creating realistic expectations for power use at a large-scale research university and by acting responsibly to prevent waste and create new opportunities.  So far, We Conserve has largely been a success, achieving their 20% reduction target by 2010!

Among the dozens of projects We Conserve has initiated and promoted, composting began being discussed in 2008 by members of the Physical Plant and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  By September of 2009, all campus dining facilities and the Monona Terrace were given “pre-consumer food waste” containers (in other words: compost bins).  You’ve no doubt seen these green containers around campus.  Nearly identical to city recycling bins, the addition of two large We Conserve stickers on either side makes the green bins identifiable.

After the new Union South opened, We Conserve  created their first post-consumer food composting location.  As they work out the kinks of these new projects, they hope to expand.

At this large a university, there is a tremendous amount of food waste.  More people means more waste, but this poses a problem while also providing a great opportunity.  We Conserve works to implement innovative solutions so that Wisconsin can waste less and hopefully pave the way for other large campuses.

The initial goals that were set in 2006 were achieved by 2010 and We Conserve works to create new, attainable reduction targets and strategies.  Frank Kooistra, who was asked to join the redesign team for We Conserve in 2010,  says “composting is going to be an important component of our next effort!  You will surely see composting featured as we update our website!”

Frank, aside from being a long-time CALS employee and strong advocate for composting, has been loosely connected with F.H. King for many years.  Frank is responsible for the newest addition to Harvest Handouts: those two, big green compost bins!  With a campus dining hall across the street from our new Harvest Handouts locations, Frank simply suggested that we cart the bins over every Friday to give the community one more opportunity to compost their food waste!

So for the rest of summer, in addition to bringing over a bag to haul your produce home in, bring your compost to Harvest Handouts!