February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 20°F


Eco-Reps works to expand and strengthen composting program

One small step in sustainability, one giant leap in environmental consciousness. The Ithaca College Eco-Reps are continuing to collaborate with the Office of Residential Life to continue the Circles Apartments composting program.

Residents participating in the program are provided a small composting bin by Eco-Reps. They then follow the guidelines on the side of the bin stating what can and cannot be composted, like food scraps and some paper products that can be composted, and put the bin outside their door on Sunday mornings for the Eco-Reps to collect.

Senior Kelly Warren, program manager for the Eco-Reps, said that because of her environmental science major, she has always been passionate about environmentalism and sustainability. Warren said the composting program began October 2016 with two collection bins for residents to drop off their compost; one was located at Circle 141, and the other was between Circles 175 and 181. As the Eco-Reps gained more volunteers, they transitioned to the pick-up system. 

As program manager, Warren organizes meetings, workshops, education programs and leads the composting program at the Circles Apartments. Warren works between the Eco-Reps and residential life at the college, being a point of contact for Circles Apartments residents and staff.

“I’m kind of like the middleman in the process, where I have to get everything smooth and rolling,” Warren said. “I hear everyone’s concerns and their questions and make any accommodations for people.”

Megan Williams, assistant director of staff and programs for the Office of Residential Life, said she appreciates the program and that the Eco-Reps work independently from Residential Life. Williams said that after a representative from Eco-Reps reaches out to Residential Life, they send a message out to the Circles Apartments community for residents to sign up for the program. 

“For students, it’s really easy because all they have to do is put [their compost] in the provided can,” Williams said.

The Eco-Reps go around the Circles Apartments every Sunday around 11 a.m. to collect the compost bags from the bins that the residents leave outside their doors. The Eco-Reps then bring the compost to Cayuga Compost, an organization where anyone in the county can drop off their food and yard scraps for free.

Warren said Eco-Reps has gone to Residential Life with many concerns and requests, and they usually are able to assist them. She said Residential Life is able to contact the residents of the Circles Apartments on behalf of the Eco-Reps and allow Eco-Reps to run the Take it or Leave it (TIOLI) donation program in the Lower Quads residential halls.

“[The Office of Residential Life] has always been very, very cooperative, collaborative and very respectful of Eco-Reps throughout our years working here,” Warren said.

Warren said the Eco-Reps have recently implemented a communal composting bin in the Circles Community Center built by Anne Stork, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Science at the college, and senior Abigail Aitken.

Aitken said she has participated in the composting program since Fall 2021 and finds it to be easy for students to add to their daily routine. 

“I think that in terms of convenience — and in terms of being a college student and having a lot of things to do and worry about — being able to have a service like this where someone picks up your compostables is really convenient and accessible,” Aitken said. 

Aitken said the composting program at the college is a great way for students to learn more about waste and have a small, simple way to be more environmentally friendly. 

“There’s a lot of waste in general in our society, and food waste is a big part of that,” Aitken said. “The sheer amount of food waste that’s produced by a household, but also an institution like a college, is almost unimaginable. … [Composting] is something that is pretty achievable and it’s just a good way to reduce what’s going into a landfill.”

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food scraps and garden waste combined make up over 28% of household waste.  

The Eco-Reps used to run the composting program in the Gardens Apartments, but Warren said  the program downsized to only the Circles Apartments because of a lack of volunteers. Warren said the Eco-Reps have plans for programming, but they can be difficult to achieve with a limited number of people able to work. 

She said the Eco-Reps are working with Scott Doyle, director of the Office of Energy Management and Sustainability, to program a Sustainability Week event in the spring semester with events and workshops to educate the college community on simple sustainable practices.

Warren also said the low participation in the Circles Apartments led her to make plans for expanding the program in order to have more people aware of what the Eco-Reps do. At this time, there are only 15 people signed up for the composting program. One way the Eco-Reps have expanded the composting program is adding the communal composting pile outside of the Circles Community Center.

“We would love for more people to participate and get engaged,” Warren said. “That’s what we’re hoping the communal composting will do, kind of create an education program for people to learn how to compost on their own.” 

Another plan Warren said the Eco-Reps have for the future is to collaborate with the Friendship Donations Network of Tompkins County. The program takes food donations from businesses to reduce food waste. The program takes what would have been thrown out by food service businesses but is still fresh and consumable and donates it to people who need it. 

“Right now there is a little complication within the dining hall[s]; they are limited on workers, so it’s a little hard to collaborate with them,” Warren said. “We’re trying to get things to start moving again, but there are some complications. Hopefully, this upcoming spring we can collaborate and start implementing that program.”