Friday Harbor Labs Composting Facility: A home for our Rocket 700 composter
Friday Harbor Labs (FHL) has always prided itself on its sustainability and environmental stewardship, of both the many marine habitats associated with the Labs, as well as the 100s of acres of terrestrial biological preserve in the San Juan Islands administered by FHL. The natural maritime Pacific Northwest setting is a hallmark of the Labs experience for the thousands of students, researchers and other visitors that have short or long stays at FHL over a course of any year. Furthermore, the topics of many of the courses, research programs and student apprenticeships connect to ecology and environmental science, and it was therefore only fitting that FHL became part of the UW College of the Environment about 5 years ago. With the Labs as such a clear beacon of ecological connectedness and sustainability through its many programs, the lack of a fully sustainable solid waste disposal program at FHL represents a glaring disconnect, and a clear and easily addressable area for improvement.
A composting program is not only desperately needed, but would be widely used. The volume of generated food waste from the cafeteria and residential kitchens is substantial. The cafeteria serves from scores to hundreds of students for 20 meals a week, more than 45 weeks a year, and provides food for many conferences, department retreats, and events throughout the year. Furthermore, 10s to 100s of other resident scientists and students prepare their own meals in campus housing every day. While city-wide composting is available on and around the main UW campus in Seattle, there is no publicly-available composting facility on San Juan Island where FHL is located.
To address this need for composting, FHL acquired an industrial size composter that could be put to use on campus. In 2014, the Labs applied for and received Campus Sustainability Funds to purchase a state-of-the-art Rocket 700 composter (Figure 1). Unfortunately, it still has not been put into use due to inadequate facilities to house the composter and insufficient funds to build such a facility.
Figure 1. The Rocket A700 composter can process up to 700 liters of of food waste each week, and requires electricity and a covered housing.
To address this final step required in bringing composting to Friday Harbor Labs, we propose to work with the FHL maintenance staff to design a central solid waste disposal facility at the Labs, purchase the requisite materials and build the structure, and then put it into use. Specifically we propose to do the following:
*Recruit interested FHL graduate and undergraduate students to work with the FHL maintenance staff to design a holistic solid waste disposal facility, that would not only house the Rocket 700 and protect it from the elements, but also contain attractive and user friendly bins for recycling, spent batteries, ewaste, and landfill waste.
*Purchase the materials needed for the new facility (estimated cost: $20,000).
*Develop detailed signage in the facility to indicate to users what waste goes where, and to explain the functioning of the Rocket 700 (using FHL computing and printing facilities; estimated cost: $0).
*We will also provide information about other composting methods within the facility as a broader impacts effort, educating students, researchers and other visitors alike about the variety of possible composting methods that they can bring to their own homes and communities (as above, estimated cost: $0).
*Provide 5 hours of student support per week during the first year of use in order to maintain the functioning of the composting facility, and identify any issues that need to be addressed for better usability (estimated cost: $8000).
*Give a two-minute introduction to the facility during the “all-FHL” event orientation that begins each quarter of instruction at the Labs.
*Conclude the year with a detailed report –authored by the students who received the student support– that can function as a guide to proper use of the facility, so that it can be used effectively and efficiently in perpetuity.
*Friday Harbor Labs would then dedicate other funds to continue the program beyond the first year, potentially redirecting funds saved from what will be substantially reduced solid waste (landfill) disposal fees and the availability year round of free compost for groundskeeping.
The benefits of such a facility will be numerous. The most obvious and immediate impact will be to lower the carbon footprint of the Labs by diverting thousands of pounds of food waste every year from the landfill, and help to ensure that ewaste stays out of landfills as well. The output of the composting facility will be usable compost that the FHL grounds crew will put into use in landscaping. Undergraduate and graduate students involvement in the design and maintenance of the facility will develop their management skills and knowledge of composting practices. The facility itself will be an educational experience for all who enter, and will inspire students, researchers and other visitors to enhance their sustainable practices in their own homes, communities and institutions. And, finally, it will bring the sustainable actions at the lab in line with the environmental stewardship that has been such an important component of the research and courses at Friday Harbor Labs for over a hundred years. The result will be a Friday Harbor Labs that is truly a paragon of sustainability in the Pacific Northwest.