Thanks to Green Team, all that’s tossed out not lost

Eight UDS locations collect biodegradable objects and send them to a St. Paul compost pile.

Alex Robinson

Since August, St. Paul has been taking students’ trash and decomposing it into an environmental treasure.

University Dinning Services created an internship program for three students, the Green Team, to sort biodegradable garbage in dining halls.

Once the biodegradables – material that can be decomposed by biological agents – are sorted, they are sent to a compost pile in St. Paul.

The biodegradables include uneaten food, napkins and even 20-ounce soda cups which are made of corn.

In St. Paul, the potato wedges and pizza crusts that weren’t eaten by students are devoured by bacteria and fungi and broken down into natural fertilizer.

So far about 20,000 pounds of biodegradable waste have been sent to the compost pile.

The Green Team operates at Coffman Union and the St. Paul Terrace Cafe, but there are also six other sites where garbage is sorted by UDS staff members behind the scenes.

In the future, UDS plans to add more retail sites where biodegradable material is collected, associate director of dinning services Karen Devet said.

Trash that can’t be composted is sent to an incinerator, which Devet said isn’t as good for the environment.

“Fifteen years ago not too many people sorted trash for recycling,” she said. “Nowadays, it’s just what you do.”

First-year global studies student Toby Engel grew up on an organic farm and said he joined the Green Team because he liked the changes UDS was making.

For about 12 hours a week, Engel hangs out in Coffman Union with his garbage can and latex gloves explaining to students which garbage bin they should throw their napkins into and exactly what biodegradable means.

After just a few weeks of work, the general student population is starting to understand the importance of composting biodegradable waste, Engel said.

“About 75 percent of the people know what’s going on,” he said. “What’s good for the environment is good for you.”

Advertising, art history and design studies senior Lindsay Johnson was hired as a Green Team member before school ended last semester.

Johnson said that even though most people don’t see her job as glamorous, she’s not ready to give up her garbage can.

“I think we’re really doing a great job with this and I feel like I’m doing something with myself,” Johnson said. “It’s very rewarding for me.”

Biological sciences junior Lisa Ragatz said she appreciates what the Green Team is doing.

“Students will see this and it will get them to think about being more environmentally friendly,” Ragatz said.