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Student-led community garden launches new composting system

The tri-bin compost system will make it easier to control what goes into the compost pile. Media Credit: Nicole Radivilov | Hatchet Staff Photographer
The tri-bin compost system will make it easier to control what goes into the compost pile. Media Credit: Nicole Radivilov | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: July 2, at 12:15 p.m.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Avery Anapol.

Students looking for an eco-friendly way to dispose of their leftover J Street salads will have to search no longer.

GW’s community garden adopted a new composting system last month, allowing students, faculty and community members to dump their food waste into a set of bins where items like apple cores and eggshells will decay and later become a part of the soil once again. The system marks the first widespread effort to make composting a more prominent public practice on the Foggy Bottom campus.

The GroW garden, which is managed by members of the Food Justice Alliance, replaced an older set-up that has been in place for about five years. The new compost bin has a “tri-bin” setup, where each of the three bins has a different role in turning food waste into soil. The new system allows for more control over what goes in and comes out of the bins, garden manager Eilish Zembilci said in an email.

Zembilci, a rising junior majoring in international affairs, oversaw the installation of the new technology. She applied for grants and purchased the system from Urban Farm Plans, a D.C.-based organization that works to advance urban farms and gardens, she said. The University did not contribute to the purchase.

“The amount of times I pulled out plastic bags, pizza slices, and water bottles from the [old] compost was ridiculous and defeats the purpose of the entire system,” Zembilci said in an email. “This new tri-bin system allows us to lock the bins and control the flow of the compost.”

The new bins only allow for composting of organic items like paper bags and raw food items. The GroW Garden will not accept dairy, bread or meats, she said, and not cups and plates advertised as compostable by vendors like Whole Foods, which can typically only be processed in industrial composting facilities like the one in Prince George’s County.

“Essentially, we want a compost salad,” Zembilci said.

Urban Farm Plans co-founder Eriks Brolis said the company typically charges $2,000 to nonprofits like the garden for the bins, but he didn’t charge the full amount to the student group. He declined to provide the amount of that discount.

Brolis said that GW is “a leader” in urban composting because they are the first college campus to use Urban Farm Plans’ tri-bin system and he hopes that the GroW Garden will serve as an example for other organizations.

This isn’t the first student-lead effort to increase composting on campus. Two students launched a small-scale composting effort in Hensley Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus in February for the building’s residents.

Meghan Chapple, director of the Office of Sustainability, said in an email that the “student-driven, GW-supported” GroW Garden bins will supplement two “food waste diversion” programs already in place by the University — one located in Pelham Commons on the Mount Vernon Campus, and the other in the J Street cafeteria for kitchen staff use.

“Like the volunteer gardening that takes place in the garden, the composting system will be an educational opportunity for the GW community,” Chapple said.

Greg Evanylo, a professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said many universities are now adopting composting systems because more undergraduate students want to be more sustainable. However, the systems are typically large, run by the university and do not require the type of student participation sought by the GroW Garden.

“I’m sure the administration loves [a student-run system] because it means they don’t have to tie up their resources,” Evanylo said. “If you’ve got student volunteers who know what they’re doing, I don’t think it should be that difficult.”

This post was updated to reflect the following clarification:
The Hatchet reported that the new compost system costs $2,000. That is the amount that Urban Farm Plans charges nonprofits like the GroW Garden for the bins. The actual retail price of the bins varies based on a number of factors like the number of systems ordered.

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