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MU looks to use dining waste for compost

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | 11:24 p.m. CDT; updated 2:04 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tim Reinbott wants students' soggy waffles, banana peels and leftover cereal.

For two years, the superintendent of MU's Bradford Research Farm has been creating plans to use food scraps from campus dining halls to grow fresh fruits and vegetables year-round for those same dining halls. Reinbott even has plans to fuel the vehicles that haul the waste — with waste.

Reinbott needs $95,000 to build a system at Bradford Farm capable of composting up to 2 tons of daily waste from MU's 13 dining halls.

Reinbott says the project is a way for MU to provide a model that schools and cities can use to keep wastes out of landfills, generate compost for landscaping and ultimately reduce their carbon footprints.

“The university has to set the standard," Reinbott said. "They’ve got to be out in front.”

If all goes to plan, the compost from the dining halls could support a five-acre garden at Bradford Farm that would grow food specifically for the dining halls.

The compost would also make use of the 1,500 tons of straw bedding and manure from science and veterinary medicine programs that would normally cost MU $350,000 annually in landfill fees.

Transportation of the food waste from the dining halls accounts for a major cost of the composting project, and Reinbott plans to convert the dining hall’s 3,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. He envisions a biodiesel truck that would haul the waste and a biodiesel tractor at the Bradford vegetable garden.

Another benefit of the compost project would be providing research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, Reinbott said.

Composting can add nutrients to soil, control weeds, decrease plant diseases and reduce organic waste in landfills. Composting food scraps from dining halls could supply half of MU Landscaping Services’ compost needs, Reinbott said.

Marc Linit, associate dean of research and extension for the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said it’s important for MU to be able to say they are purchasing food, and that they are not only feeding their students, but also their trees and floral gardens with that food. 

“Our primary focus is to produce food from plants and animals,” Linit said. “That’s what we’ve been about for years. But more and more the issue is, what do you do with the waste stream?”


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Comments

Kelly Bethel May 27, 2010 | 8:28 a.m.

This is great news! If only a system could be set up to do the same with local restaurants. I'm sure the amount of food waste they go through on a daily basis could more than take up the slack in compost needs and the cooking oil could probably provide an excess of bio-diesel.

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