New initiative at SUNY Oswego aims to reduce food waste

Oswego County, N.Y. — A new program led by SUNY Oswego students is aiming to reduce pre-consumer food waste at the university and benefit residents of Oswego County.

Student organizers are working with dining halls across the campus to collect food scraps that would otherwise be tossed out. This includes waste from produce, meats and even coffee grounds that are put aside for students to collect each day. 

“Every morning our team goes out and tackles each location on campus; so we go out with our vehicles and pick up each of the buckets by hand,” Sarah Smelko, a graduate intern in the Office of Sustainability, said.

Sarah and other interns collect up to 400 pounds of food scraps each day, which is then brought to the Bristol Hill Waste Management Center in Volney where the composting process begins. Large pipes under the surface add heat to help break down the organic material into usable compost. Even in the bitterly cold weather Oswego County faces each winter, the pile can still reach the high temperatures required. 

“Obviously we get much hotter temperatures in the summer time than in the winter time but we’re still kicking around 110 degrees right now which is great,” Oswego County Program Director of solid waste Jerimiah Thompson said.

This compost is then available for Oswego County residents to use free of charge, where they can take as much as they would like for personal use. Thompson said that compost like this is a great way for residents to nurture their gardens, flowerbeds and home while being environmentally friendly. 

“Compost is great for the environment, it’s healthy for the soil, but it’s not chemical based,” Thompson said.

Programs like this are a part of a larger effort to improve sustainability and reduce waste across the SUNY Oswego campus. Dining halls are also switching to recyclable materials for food containers, silverware and napkins. Auxiliary Services, the department in charge of dining on campus, hopes to reduce as much waste as possible and to continue sourcing eco-friendly supplies. 

“The goal is every tray that gets dumped into the trash can before it hits the dish room should only be compostable materials, and there would be no garbage from the trays leaving the dining hall,“ Director of Residential Dining Daniel Siddons said. “I think it really is just seeing a need and wanting to find a way to help out as many people as we can.”

For students like Smelko, they are happy to see their efforts are helping those in the community. Every pound of food scraps collected is a pound that is not added to a landfill, and these items that are considered to be garbage are typically forgotten by most people. 

“It’s also just great to think about what our waste is and how it’s always accumulating outside of where we’re seeing, and so diverting a little bit of that and helping the campus divert its waste is something exciting and I’m glad to be a part of that,” said Smelko. “We would love to compost everything on campus.”

The Office of Sustainability brings students and faculty together to promote eco-friendly facilities across campus. You can find updates, information, and future events on their Instagram page @oz_susainability.