Waste at Oakton Community College
(Part Three in a Three Part Series by Paul Slocum–Sustainability Research Student Worker)
A growing concern within our own institution is a current lack of systems to efficiently divert Oakton’s various wastes from the landfill. Hauling costs and landfill fees—services provided to us by Waste Management— continually inflate as Oakton’s student body grows and our volume of waste increases. The most harmful form of Oakton’s refuse may be food scraps, as they become a significant source of methane when rotting in the landfill. In fact, according to the EPA- methane is: “A potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide”. The essential problem defining Oakton’s food diversion issues, and on a broader scale the United States, is that we throw too much food away. Uneaten food that ends up in landfills throughout the country “accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions” (Natural Resources Defense Council). Further, roughly 40% of all foods sold for consumption in the United States goes uneaten and ends up as trash (NRDC). Oakton’s Skokie and Des Plaines Campuses both have food service centers, and together they end up landfilling 22 tons of just food scraps every year. This figure is based on an audit done by Patrick Engineering Co. over the course of 2014-15 which accurately estimated Oakton’s volume of wastes in several different categories. These extra hauling costs and landfill fees derived from the 22 tons of food scraps Oakton throws out annually are expenses that could completely be avoided. The reason why we are still paying for Waste Management landfill our foodwaste is simply because Oakton currently does not have any systems in place to deal with it.
This is why in Oakton’s Sustainability Department employees are now working towards developing programs to implement at Oakton’s campuses targeting food waste directly. Various options are being explored– including composting systems, renewable silverware/dishware providers, and educational tools to make students aware of what to do with their lunch leftovers.