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After initiating a composting campaign on and off the University of Arizona campus, a student-run group has plans for additional expansions of the program.
In line with the UA's promotion of sustainability efforts, the student-run Compost Cats established a composting bin system at three restaurants located inside of the UA Student Union Memorial Center.
Founded in 2011 as a Students for Sustainability internship project, Compost Cats began by collecting food waste from restaurants at the UA and in the surrounding community.
In January, the group introduced composing bins at three Student Union restaurants – Cellar Bistro, Sabor and 3 Cheeses & a Noodle – enabling patrons to compost their waste once finished with their meals.
"Our goal was to educate students about simple actions they can take that will have real environmental benefits," said Rachel Maxwell, one of the group's founding members.
Maxwell, a UA Honors College senior studying environmental science, worked as a "compost coach" during the project's first three weeks to ensure consumers knew which items were able to be composted.
Fruits, vegetables and non-dairy products are considered compostable, along with certain to-go containers and thin paper products. But meats and sweets are deemed unacceptable for composting.
"Right now our focus remains on getting the word out and expanding the amount of composting areas around campus," said Maxwell, noting that biodegradable containers have been the main item composted.
For other members, the work that has gone into the project stands as a testament to the unified vision of the group.
Taryn Contento, a crop productions junior, is one of Compost Cats' six student employees. Contento serves as the group's compost technician, helping to gather food waste collected and working to turn that waste into nutrient-rich compost.
"We really want students to know how easy it is to make a difference," Contento said.
While the project is both ambitious and logistically hefty, the management staff at each of the restaurants have been supportive and enthusiastic, she also said.
"We'll need to come at it a little stronger moving forward but this is a very good step in the right direction," Contento said. "Figuring out how to make the process even simpler for everyone will be key."
Group members plan to expand their community outreach within the next few months and work closer with elementary schools. The long-term goal is to become completely self-funded by selling collected compost to businesses around Tucson.
"Our goal is not to raise profit," Maxwell said. "Everyone here is very motivated, and I think it is amazing to see what students can do collectively."