Compost Confusion

Written by Nick Olson, ESLLC 2016-2017

And we back ESLLC! As I was trying to think of a topic to write on for this week’s blog post, I was reminded of a strange interaction with a classmate. On an odd Saturday night, we sat around the hall discussing our love for recycling, and how we often find ourselves picking up trash around campus to redirect from the waste. Tears of love for a system that every commoner could bear to know more about, I brought up the topic of composting. Our faces wrinkled, eyes squinted, and we realized that we really didn’t know much about what it means or where it goes. This post will be a grasp at understanding, and maybe motivation/encouragement to ask more questions.

Let’s start with some general facts. All waste organizations deal with trash differently. Today, we are going to be focusing on the service that DU uses, Alpine Waste and Recycling company (AWR). As our organics are moved from our plates, to the compost bin down the hall, to the compost dumpster outside Nelson by one of our wonderful LLC volunteers (thanks this week Max!), it’s eventually picked up by AWR. From this truck, our organics are moved about 43 miles Northeast to a Class II processing facility. From this facility, our removeables are collected from all around the city of Denver, and processed into a nutrient rich substance, which is then sold to agricultural/landscaping industries.


Now one of the main confusions I had was what I could compost and what I can’t. To do this, we have to distinguish between recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. Biodegradable items are those that will break down into CO2, H2O, and biomass within a certain amount of time. The problem with this definition is that there’s no legal enforcement or guideline explaining how long this time is, so businesses are able to skew the perception of the green consumer by labeling their product as so, as long as they break down “reasonably”. Recycling is mostly paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and aluminum waste that can be collected and reused in new products again. Now, Compostable products are those that are biodegradable, and add nutrients back into the soil. Note that “compostables” are not always “recyclable”, and “biodegradables” are not always “compostable”.

So what can I compost? Pretty much any food waste (though the detritivores that break them down prefer certain foods over others), soiled papers (pizza boxes, coffee filters, tea bags), any greenery or “yard trimmings” (branches, bushes), and any cutlery or plastic clearly labeled “compostable”. What may be more crucial is what not to compost. Ceramics, aluminum foil, clothes, plastic bags, rocks, any foil lined anything, biowaste, liquids, Styrofoam, and clean papers. A full list of compostable items can be found here.


What’s important to me now is to realize what I’m putting where. Napkins for example, if they’re clean they can be recycled, but if not, they’d be better off in compost. Drink cups from Nagel shouldn’t be composted with liquid still in them. Although the process of composting is still somewhat a mystery to me, the most important thing to take away is to understand what labeling entails. Another note I should add is that knowing that “biodegradable” is a loosely used term used by businesses as a green buzzword, we can’t stop questioning what else might be up in the air. But for now, stay informed, stay green, stay bein’.


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