Composting and environmentalism in student accommodations

Ciara Chan dives into the ways in which waste is managed in student accommodations

If you were in Trinity Hall at the end of last year, you will remember the large dumpsters that were dominating the courtyards on move-out day. By the end of the day, rubbish was floating like kites on the wind and condoms were scattered on the ground. No one knew whether it was better to look up or down to avoid the most waste. Delightful, right? Students with entire bins of moulding food, recyclable plastic covered in some new sort of fungi, and on top of that pots, pans and bed sheets you name it, you would have found it in Halls. Scavengers probably had field days in those bins and scientists, had they gone digging, might have discovered the source of the elusive freshers’ flu. 

Considering the inevitable lack of sanitation that comes with putting a thousand freshers in the same accommodation, exiting residents rightfully wanted to get rid of their waste in the most efficient way possible. We all know that putting people with different lifestyles and routines in one flat can descend into chaos. Lists of chores and allotting different tasks to each flatmate could only ever do so much when, for most of us, one party resulted in a cleaning nightmare and the flat never recovered. 

“Once that organic material ends up in a landfill, it releases methane gas into the atmosphere when it decomposes.”

This experience isn’t limited to the residents of Trinity Hall. Almost everyone has at some point procrastinated dealing with whatever substance was at the bottom of that jar in the kitchen. Out of sight out of mind, right? Wrong. Once that organic material ends up in a landfill, it releases methane gas into the atmosphere when it decomposes. Indeed, food loss contributes around 8%-10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

It can seem difficult, in student accommodations especially, to implement changes that are beneficial for the environment. It can already be hard to keep recycling and general waste separate when there are so many people passing through an apartment, so composting generally seems to be out of the question. However, the benefits to composting are numerous. It promotes plant growth by improving nutrient distribution to plants, increasing water retention in soil and balancing soil pH. Subsequently, proper pH and nutrient delivery protect plants from diseases and pests. Prosperous plants means greater carbon dioxide absorption from the atmosphere while composting reduces the organic material that ends up in landfills consequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Small (and sealable) composting receptacles are just as effective as big ones.”

So, start small. Maybe suggest buying a flat composting bin with a lid, so that the smell of rotting food cannot become a counter-argument. It doesn’t have to be big! Small (and sealable) composting receptacles are just as effective as big ones. Reducing organic material going into general waste is key. Cleaning off dirty dishes right after usage is easier it requires less water and dish soap. Even being more mindful in the way that you shop can help. Make sure everything is used up before you go to buy something else. Less in the fridge at any given time means less waste. Another way to limit waste is by packing things into the tiny freezer that student accommodation provides. You would be surprised by the amount of food that is freezable anything from fruit and vegetables to bread and rice. It may not taste exactly the same upon defrosting (although bread holds up well after throwing it in the toaster) but, hey, how many of us are eating gourmet meals to start with? 

To be radical, maybe start meal prepping. Easier said than done, I know. When you’re running between the library, societies, socialising or maybe just existing as a college student, meal prep falls to the bottom of the priority list. Maybe Vegan-uary sounds like BS to you, but downloading the Too Good To Go app might not be. Oftentimes, being sustainable coincides with protecting the ever-so-limited bank account. It doesn’t require more money, just a little more thought. Too Good To Go offers really good deals and limits food waste, meal prepping saves money and packaging, and bringing in a (the appropriately sized) disposable coffee mug gets you a discount on campus. 

Between those days when you’re on campus all day or times when you’re too lazy or too tired to cook, limiting waste can be hard. College life doesn’t exactly make environmentalism easy or clear cut but we can make a huge difference by taking it more seriously as a community and by being mindful of how we dispose of what we consume. Think about which bin you are throwing that cup into. Properly clean out your recyclables before throwing them away. Maybe bring home rubbish in order to sort it out if you can’t find the proper facilities in town. The inconvenience isn’t too big and it can make all the difference.