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Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement ramps up sustainability efforts with compost machine

Compost Machine

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — One of the missions of Austin Peay State University’s Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement is to keep things local. From its S.O.S. Food Pantry that takes donations and makes them available for needy students to its Victory Gardens and egg-producing chickens that generate fresh food, the Center has a keen interest in taking care of its own.

Now, with the recent installation of a large-scale composter known as an Earth Tub and partnerships with campus and community organizations, the Center has found a way to keep its food waste local — all while helping to reduce the University’s impact on the environment.

“This compost machine isn’t necessarily in the job description of Service-Learning, but it’s another thing that I felt like we needed to be doing here,” Alexandra Wills, director for the Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement, said. “Thankfully, Austin Peay is supportive (of these initiatives) and lets us do it, so we had to take advantage.”

Installed in late summer, the Earth Tub can handle up to 100 pounds of food and paper a day, and the fully enclosed machine features power mixing, compost aeration and filtration of all process air. Popular among universities, the Earth Tub has been installed at, among other institutions, Youngstown State University, Xavier University, the University of Maine and Washington State University in recent years.

Service-Learning has partnered with Chartwells, the University’s official food service provider, to keep the Earth Tub filled with food waste, “or greens,” that would have previously been sent to the landfill. In addition, Austin Peay’s Physical Plant and Clarksville’s local newspaper, The Leaf-Chronicle, have been tapped to donate “browns,” or dry, carbon-rich waste like newspapers, hay and sawdust to ensure the right mix of ingredients to make useable compost.

“This was a perfect partnership between Chartwells and Austin Peay,” James Mott, Austin Peay executive chef, said. “We have actually seen quite a decrease in our dumpster space by not having these things going into it. We will process at least 100 pounds of produce a day and all the trimmings can really add up.”

Upon completion of the first batch of compost, Wills said, grounds crews will take what once would have been discarded waste and use the fresh soil for landscaping efforts across campus.

The eventual goal, Wills said, is to use the tub, and other initiatives like it, to completely eliminate food waste on campus.

“That’s what we’d like to see happening eventually, and we’re working with Dining Services to work toward that goal,” Wills said.

Laura Prange, sustainability coordinator at Austin Peay, commended Service-Learning for its efforts, noting that the Earth Tub represents Austin Peay’s leap beyond what is the “traditional” order of campus sustainability efforts.

“University campuses across the country take on ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ as their first sustainability project, and typically large scale composting is the final, crowning achievement,” Prange said. “Here at APSU, our new composting program sets a high bar to increase all of our everyday recyclables and that is exciting.”

Installation of an Earth Tub was not without cost, but Wills said much of the one-time cost associated with the project will pave the way for expanded compost efforts.

“When they brought this first Earth Tub to campus, they had to run electricity and some other things to power the unit, but our goal is to bring a second Earth Tub and maybe a third down the road that can all be powered by what we already have,” Wills said.

To find out more about Austin Peay’s Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement, visit www.apsu.edu/volunteer.