At the beginning of the year, just 33 percent of waste was recycled or composted in Rolvaag Memorial Library and Boe Chapel, two of the college’s most heavily trafficked buildings.
Today, 69 percent of the waste in those buildings is recycled or composted where new compost bins have been installed.
The driver behind this impressive increase? St. Olaf College students.
This January, the student organization Environmental Coalition (EC) started a campus compost program. The 15-member Compost Crew started by introducing compost bins in Buntrock Commons, which houses all of the campus dining spaces as well as many popular spots for socializing. In just the first month of introducing compost bins in Buntrock Commons, composting increased by 22.8 percent.
Led by EC organizer Matthew Douglas-May ’19, an environmental studies major, the crew has worked to set up new compost bins, along with signs explaining what materials are to be composted, recycled, or landfilled. Throughout the academic year, EC has also hosted events on composting and maintaining a sustainable life.
These efforts have been met by a campus community eager to participate. Students, faculty, and staff have increased their composting and recycling habits. Associate Professor of Chemistry and Department Chair of Environmental Studies Paul Jackson ’92 provided support in organizing the efforts, and Assistant Director of Facilities Steve Rasmussen and the college’s facilities team helped set up and manage the new bins in collaboration with Mitchell Miller ’18 and Addie Poore ’21.
The overwhelming reception to the composting initiative in Buntrock Commons during January led EC to expand its efforts to Rolvaag Memorial Library and Boe Chapel in March, with an end goal of campus-wide composting and overall campus conscientiousness. If perfectly executed, roughly 85 percent of these buildings’ waste could be recycled and composted.
“We hope to make students more aware of their consumption habits and their waste production as they sort their trash in order to compost, recycle, or landfill it,” says Kristen Eiswerth ’18, an organizer for EC. “Sorting waste helps students to think more about the full life cycle of an item and the environmental impact of that item.”
“We hope to make students more aware of their consumption habits and their waste production as they sort their trash in order to compost, recycle, or landfill it.”
The dedication of Environmental Coalition and its Compost Crew has raised awareness of the importance in properly sorting waste. “With that success in mind, we must note that our work has just begun,” says Douglas-May, pointing out that the efforts could be expanded to more than three dozen other buildings on campus.
EC organizer Leidy Rogers ’18 acknowledges that it can feel paralyzing trying to address issues as big as environmental degradation. “I was so impressed with how much people in EC were ready and willing to try to make change happen despite the challenges,” she says. “This dedication pulled me in. I’ve realized that for me, such camaraderie and support is crucial for sustained activism — so finding this community has made me more committed to long-term environmental work.”
In order to protect the earth and also the land on which the college stands, this group of students continues to use its ambitious spirits for advocacy. The Environmental Coalition exemplifies what it means to start taking initiative in your own backyard. These Oles understand how the sum of their actions on campus can add up to an even greater cause.
“Our composting initiatives have the potential to protect the environment and support the local economy,” says Douglas-May, “and the bigger our composting program is on campus, the bigger positive impact we will have.”
Watch Environmental Coalition organizer Kirsten Koerth ’19 explain how to properly dispose waste in the new bins on campus.