By Charles Hermesmann
Nearly a fourth of Wheaton undergrads have signed a petition urging the college to, “implement a composting program to divert food scraps generated on campus, particularly plate waste and food scraps produced in Anderson Commons.”
The petition is not the only way that Wheaton students are advocating for environmental policy changes. The “Weigh the Waste” project was led by Wheaton’s own environmental advocacy group, A Rocha. There were 19 volunteers who collected student food waste in Anderson Commons, weighed each plate, then analyzed the results. After weighing approximately 150 samples of food per night.
A Rocha found an average of 0.3 pounds when using a plate and 0.5 pounds when using a tray.
Student signed the petition both online and in-person. It has gathered a total of 579 signatures.
While each project began independently, the two are closely connected. Both are supported by Wheaton’s Sustainability Committee and by A Rocha.
They also have the same end goal in mind: to raise student awareness and take action to reduce waste.
In 2010, Wheaton College was included in the Princeton Review’s “Guide to 268 Green Colleges.” It has also pursued Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for both the Memorial Student Center and the Meyer Science Center. Despite these advances, the college has never implemented a composting program.
Sophomore Leilani Lu is both a cabinet member for A Rocha and a part of the Sustainability Committee. She helped to organize and execute the Weigh the Waste event last week. “Wheaton, compared to other schools, [is] falling behind in our sustainability action,” she said. Calvin College, Hope College, Taylor University and 13 other Wheaton competitors have already implemented compost programs. “This is an area where we can catch up with them and do better,” she said.
Sophomore Morgan Moxley and senior Isabella Wallmow organized the compost petition independently, then sought out support from A Rocha and the Sustainability Committee. According to Moxley, food that is disposed of in landfills is often mixed with toxic chemicals that prevent waste from decomposing.
Instead, the waste breaks down into leachate, which can contaminate drinking water. Or, it can create methane gas fumes, which can contribute to the deterioration of the ozone layer.
Moxley is confident that small changes to Wheaton students’ daily lives can have a larger impact.“If we change our habits, we can make a difference that will actually cause a lot of change for our community,” she said. Moxley and those involved in both sustainability projects suggest that students should become more aware of how much food they are taking in the dining hall.
Wheaton’s student body has embraced the compost petition and Weigh the Waste event with open arms. Wallmow described the response as “incredibly positive. There have been little to no people who have been against implementing the compost program.”
Some students questioned why the administration hasn’t already implemented a composting program, while others were introduced to the idea for the first time.
The ultimate goal of both initiatives is to convince the administration to enter a composting agreement with Lakeshore Recycling Systems, a Chicago-based waste management company. Wheaton’s food service, Bon Appetit, is fully supportive of this proposal.
Wallmow said the company is “very willing to be engaged and to be a part of that program.”
On their website, Bon Appetit describes themselves as “the role model for responsible sourcing in the food service industry.” A Rocha president Meredith Schellhase appreciates Bon Appetit’s support for environmental sustainability:
“From how they source their food and how they donate leftover food to different organizations, [Bon Appetit does] a really good job of trying to limit food waste … [composting] would just help them to do that more.”
Schellhase believes that student movement towards environmental sustainability is a way of expressing care for one another. “Sustainability is a way of being mindful of how … it’s a literal way of loving your neighbor that [isn’t] self-glorifying.”
According to Lu, sustainability “is about people care.” She believes that the poor are more widely affected by unsustainability than the rich because they often have no choice but to live with the toxic results of landfills.
“Because of the environmental injustice that is happening, the poorest people are the people who are bearing the gravest effects of our environmental degradation,” she said.
In the future, students involved in both sustainability initiatives hope to continue raising awareness as they try to convince Wheaton’s administration that a composting program is essential to campus sustainability.
Wallmow sees these initiative