Friday Harbor Labs Composting Facility: A home for our Rocket 700 composter

Executive Summary:

Project description: We are applying for funding for materials to build a facility that would house a Rocket A700 composter acquired by Friday Harbor Labs (FHL). We are also asking for funding to hire a student (the “FHL Student Compost Ambassador”) to provide outreach for the composting process, to monitor the project and its implementation, and to initiate an e-waste recycling program at FHL. This project will be supported in the initial stages and over the long-term by FHL maintenance and dining hall staff to ensure that the composter is adequately maintained. FHL has also committed to maintain continuing funding of the aforementioned Student Ambassador position for four additional years (2018-2022).

Location on campus: UW’s Friday Harbor Labs marine station is located on San Juan Island.

Proposed cost (CSF): $52,700
Proposed FHL match (year 1): $45,335
Proposed FHL match (years 2-5, per year): $17,000

Environmental problem the project is seeking to solve: FHL has a long history of environmental stewardship as well as marine and terrestrial ecology research and education, and is a beacon of ecological connectedness and sustainability in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, 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. FHL hosts hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and visiting scholars year round, and as such generates thousands of pounds of compostable food waste annually. Currently, all of this waste is shipped off island to a landfill in South-Central Washington. In 2014, FHL acquired an industrial Rocket A700 composter through the CSF. The composter and associated bins, however, must be housed in a dedicated dry and animal-proof facility which FHL does not currently have.

We are therefore applying for CSF funds to offset ~80% of the material costs for construction of a facility that would not only house and provide power to the Rocket A700, but would also centralize and improve campus solid waste disposal of all types, including recycling, landfill waste and a new e-waste program. An additional benefit is the production of copious finished compost that could be used for mulching around the FHL grounds, and fertilizer for a vegetable garden that will be initiated during the project period, primarily by interested FHL undergraduate and graduate students. We are also including a request to CSF to fund the first year of a five year FHL Student Compost Ambassador position, who would take responsibility for monitoring the functioning of the operational Rocket A700, would be the primary point person for outreach to the community and beyond about the program, and would submit quarterly reports to the FHL administration on successes and challenges.

Website: More information on Friday Harbor labs may be found at

People and departments involved: We have obtained Project Approval Forms from the heads of FHL maintenance (Fred Ellis), FHL dining (Laurie Spalding) and FHL director Billie Swalla, and the Acceptance of Administrative Responsibility Form from the FHL administrator Mark Tetrick.

Student Involvement:

This project will provide 5 hours of student support per week to an undergraduate or graduate student for up to 5 years (first year from CSF funds, and subsequent four years from FHL, est. cost $8,000/yr), which we will call the FHL Student Compost Ambassador. This Student Ambassador will lead outreach efforts to educate and include the greater FHL community, and will recruit undergraduate and graduate student volunteers interested in assisting in composting and waste disposal efforts around campus. In addition, the Student Ambassador will hold group meetings with FHL maintenance, FHL dining and FHL administration to coordinate volunteer efforts at various stages of the project, set up an e-waste program at FHL, and compile quarterly reports to share with all parties.

Student involvement in community outreach:

The Student Ambassador will coordinate the design and creation of signage to be placed in the composter facility, as well as give a 2 minute overview of the composter and associated waste disposal to the FHL community at the quarterly “All FHL Dinner.” This quarterly dinner is the ideal setting for a quick introduction to the FHL community, because attendance is mandatory for all arriving students and well-attended by the entire community.

The Student Ambassador will also be responsible for coordinating undergraduate and graduate student, faculty, and staff volunteers interested in helping with the composting process and/or in working in a proposed community garden that will use compost from the facility. In addition to coordinating ongoing volunteer assistance, we envision the Ambassador coordinating a few designated days each quarter where interested students, faculty, and staff would work on the community garden and in helping FHL maintenance with composting tasks. This position would give the Student Ambassador the opportunity to build leadership, communication, and management skills, and undergraduates and graduate student volunteers would gain knowledge about composting and e-waste practices.

Student coordination with FHL staff and administration in initial stages and beyond:

Furthermore, the Student Ambassador will participate in planning meetings involving the heads of FHL maintenance (Fred Ellis) and FHL dining (Laurie Spalding), FHL administrator Mark Tetrick, and FHL Director Billie Swalla. In this way, the Student Ambassador will be able to influence and directly participate in the design and execution of the new facility. The Ambassador will then report back to any interested FHL student volunteers, who would then likewise be able to be involved in decision making at each stage via the Ambassador as their liaison. Furthermore, the Ambassador will recruit interested volunteers for various phases of the project construction per their interest, and taking into account safety issues as regulated by Mr. Ellis.

WA state and UW both have extensive programs to recover e-waste from the landfill stream, and to ensure that the e-waste recycling is handled sustainably and ethically (see During the first year of the project the FHL Student Compost Ambassador will work with FHL units, the UW e-waste program, and the San Juan Island e-waste transfer service (Consignment Treasures LLC) to develop a workable e-waste disposal plan for the labs, and to thus include publicly-accessible e-waste disposal bins and signage in the proposed FHL solid waste disposal facility.

The Student Ambassador will also write quarterly reports that will include an updated guide to proper use of the facility, ambassador activities that were conducted, a log of all volunteer hours and food waste composted, and a list of future needs for the facility. This report will be essential in communicating regularly with FHL maintenance, the FHL dining hall staff and the FHL directorship on the state and needs of the facility, and to provide continuity to subsequent Ambassadors. 

Education & Outreach:

How this project will be publicized:

Publicizing the project to the resident FHL community will be primarily carried out through signage and an introduction at the quarterly “All FHL” Dinner by the Student Ambassador, as outlined in the student involvement section. Notes about solid waste disposal, recycling, e-waste and compost will be added to the brochures distributed to all visitors when they arrive at FHL, and in the informational signs posted in campus housing units. 

Furthermore, this project will be publicized to the FHL community, to the University of Washington campus at large, and to the greater San Juan Island community through media, such as the Islander and Seattle newspapers, regional environmental newsletters and blogs, and through the Lab's social media feeds. In addition, updates on the project will be publicized in FHL’s monthly Tidebites newsletter, quarterly Intertidal Tidings newsletter, and the annual FHL Bulletin, all of which have broad distribution. The project will be publicized to the greater campus by contacting the press offices of the College of the Environment and UW Daily.

Specific outreach and education goals:

The primary outreach goals are to educate the FHL community on alternative methods and benefits of composting food waste rather than sending it to the landfill, benefits of using compost in landscaping, and benefits of recycling e-waste. Information on small-scale composting methods will also be provided for visiting students and researchers who may be inspired by this information to begin composting after leaving FHL. The signage will also be designed to increase the likelihood that all waste items are disposed of in the appropriate bins.

A long term goal of the community garden will be to provide ingredients back to the FHL dining hall, to be used regularly as well as featured in special meals, such as the aforementioned quarterly "All FHL" Dinners and the 4th of July celebration.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Waste
Project Longevity:

Friday Harbor Laboratories is committed to long-term maintenance of the composter facility and we are including an estimated annual contribution that FHL has agreed to contribute towards this project. In addition to FHL committing to cover operational utility costs, weekly efforts by FHL maintenance and FHL dining staff will include composter upkeep, ongoing wood chipping and collecting food waste. A breakdown of these ongoing FHL matches can be found in the “Non-CSF Sources” budget section of this proposal, and would total an estimated $10,500 annually, or $52,500 over 5 years. Furthermore, the Student Ambassador outreach position will create signage and directly communicate with the FHL community to ensure that only compostable materials will enter the compost stream. FHL administration has graciously agreed to fund this position for four years (at $8,000/yr, from 2018-2022) following the initial year of the project. Initially this program will be limited to FHL dining hall staff coordinating food waste from the dining hall to the composter to ensure proper use. In subsequent years of the project, the FHL Student Compost Ambassador will coordinate with other FHL units to determine the feasibility of expanding the composting program to encompass the other FHL housekeeping units (i.e., student and researcher housing with their own kitchens). Please note that the $98,035 listed as "Project Completion Total" reflects our estimated project costs (CSF + FHL match) for the first year of funding. Ongoing operation costs beyond the first year are all committed as matching funds from FHL, and are listed in the "Non-CSF Sources" budget table.

Environmental Problem:

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 UW’s Friday Harbor Labs (FHL) marine station is located, and all solid waste is transported from San Juan Island by truck and ferry. This represents both a substantial cost to the labs through our solid waste disposal contract with San Juan Sanitation, and is also a significant source of carbon and other pollution, both from waste pickup/transport, and from the emissions associated with landfill disposal of this otherwise compostable material (see the “Explain how the impacts will be measured” section). The proposed facility will mitigate this problem by providing a space to compost this food waste, as well as a dry location to store the wood chips or leaves (derived from FHL landscaping) that are mixed with food waste for efficient operation of the Rocket A700 composter, per manufacturers instructions. Finally, the facility will yield usable compost that the FHL grounds crew will put into use in landscaping, and in a student-run vegetable and flower garden.

During the busiest summer months, FHL dining staff estimate that they generate approximately 190 liters of food waste per week; all of the other resident scientists combined produce perhaps an additional 100 liters per week. At maximum capacity the Rocket A700 can handle 700 liters per week, so this device is sufficient to handle all of the food waste produced at the labs year round. During the summer, we estimate that the Rocket A700 could yield enough compost to cover a garden area of 2 m x 2 m (4 m2) every week, or 100 m2 per year, thus providing plentiful compost and mulch both for landscaping and gardening.

An additional environmental concern is that there is currently no central, easily accessible location for e-waste disposal at the labs, and much of this material thus ends up in the solid waste stream. Environmental impacts from electronics relate to their manufacture, shipping, and 'end of life' disposal, as well as associated components (e.g. cables, remote controls), via CO2 and other (non-greenhouse) pollutants released, including carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas) and smog. The metal components of electronics, such as lead, copper and platinum, must be obtained by mining, which can be quite destructive of natural habitats, depending on the mining techniques used. Poorly regulated mining operations will pollute waterways (thus harming people and other animals downstream) as will improper disposal of electronics when they are no longer working or needed. The metal components in electronics can be recovered –and the aforementioned pollutants mitigated– by recycling, as is done ethically and sustainably by both WA state and the main UW campus ( See the “Student involvement” section for our plan to institute e-waste recycling at FHL for the first time as part of the newly proposed facility.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The most obvious and immediate impact of the composting facility 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 e-waste stays out of landfills as well. Processing the compost locally will also result in reduced carbon and other emissions inherent in the pickup and transfer of food waste from the labs, to the San Juan Island transfer station, off island from there to the Skagit County solid waste facility, and then by rail to a landfill in Klickitat County (South-Central Washington). There will also be additional carbon emissions reductions with respect to the production and transport of composting materials that the Labs currently purchases yearly for its grounds maintenance.

We have used available EPA documentation ( tools/warm/pdfs/Landfilling.pdf) as well as the footprint calculator and documentation designed by co-applicant Hodin ( to make an estimate of yearly carbon emissions savings that would result from the initiation of FHL composting using the Rocket A700 composter. We estimate that the FHL dining hall alone generates approximately 5,000 kg (5 metric tons) of compostable food waste annually. Landfilled food waste, inclusive of transport emissions, generates approximately 2 kg of equivalent CO2 emissions for every kg of food waste; composting would eliminate these emissions, mainly through the avoidance of methane production from landfill (anaerobic) breakdown of food waste, as methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. 

Therefore, we estimate an approximate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 10 tons from diverting this FHL dining hall food waste from the solid waste stream. Subtracting the emissions inherent in the electricity needed to run the composter year-round (approximately 0.15 tons of CO2 equivalents per year), we estimate that the composter will reduce FHL CO2 emissions by 9.85 metric tons per year.

Once the first year of the project is completed, the FHL Student Compost Ambassador will coordinate with other FHL units to determine the feasibility of expanding the composting program to encompass the other FHL housekeeping units (i.e., student and researcher housing with their own kitchens). We estimate that doing so would save another approximately 1 metric ton of CO2 emissions equivalents per year.

The addition of an e-waste disposal and recycling program to the solid waste facility would also result in reductions in both carbon and non-carbon emissions from various avenues. First, recovery of reusable electronic components obviates the need for them to be mined, produced and shipped anew. Second, avoiding the landfill disposal of electronic waste reduces toxic runoff from those landfill sites. Since FHL currently has no specific accounting of e-waste generated and disposed of yearly at the labs, these impacts are difficult to quantify. But we expect the potential environmental 'savings' of a comprehensive FHL e-waste recovery program to be substantial.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $52,700
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal CostNotes
Facility enclosure, material costs (slab and structure)35,000135,000FHL head of maintenance, Fred Ellis, has estimated the total materials cost as $45,000. FHL has agreed to a $10,000 match, so the CSF portion would be $35,000. See attached MaterialsEstimate sheet for a breakdown of the $45,000
Permitting costs1,70011,700San Juan County
Design fees (UW Design Services)8,00018,000Estimate provided by Mark Miller (Manager, UW Design Services)
FHL Student Compost Ambassador8,00018,000Based on Graduate Student salary, 5 hours per week for 9 months, inclusive of benefits, and indirect cost recovery

Non-CSF Sources:

ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal CostNotes
Facility enclosure, material costs (slab and structure)10,000110,000This is the pledged FHL match as referenced above
Heavy equipment rental, relocation/demolition3002600This is pledged FHL commitment ; backhoe and dump truck rental fees
Heavy equipment rental, excavation3002600This is pledged FHL commitment ; backhoe and dump truck rental fees
Tradesmen labor hours (FHL maintenance staff)$60 per hr376 hours22,560This is all pledged ("in-kind") FHL maintenance staff labor costs; See attached LaborEstimates sheet for breakdown
Supervisory labor costs (Fred Ellis, head of maintenance)$70 per hr22.5 hours1,575This is all pledged ("in-kind") FHL maintenance supervisory labor costs; See attached LaborEstimates sheet for breakdown
Signage printing, laminating expenses etc 1,00011,000FHL has committed labs printing and laminating equipment for this effort
Wood chipping (needed for efficient Rocket A700 compost production)4,000per year4,000Yearly pledge of commitment from FHL
Composter maintenance, estimated (FHL maintenance staff)4,000per year4,000Yearly pledge of commitment from FHL
Collecting food waste and filling composter daily2,000per year2,000Yearly pledge of commitment from FHL
Utility costs500per year500Yearly pledge of commitment from FHL
Estimated cost savings from diverting food waste from solid waste pickup-1,500per year-1,500Estimated yearly savings (thus a negative value here)
FHL Student Compost Ambassador8,000per year8,000Yearly pledge of commitment from FHL, 2018-2022. Estimate is based on Graduate Student salary, 5 hours per week for 9 months, inclusive of benefits, and indirect cost recovery
YEAR 1 (2017-2018) FHL total match45,335145,335total of rows 2-12 above
YEARS 2-5 (2018-2022) FHL total match17,000468,000total of rows 8-13 above, multiplied by four years
Continuing FHL total match, yearly after 20229,00019,000total of rows 8-12 above; this is a yearly FHL commitment beyond the 5th year
Project Completion Total: $98,035


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
1st Student Ambassador chosen, planning meetingssummer 20179/30/17
Design processsummer 20179/30/17
Permit application review period90 days11/15/17
Construction of enclosure376 hours (19 days) over 2 months2/28/18
Rocket A700 operational, testing1 month3/31/18
Rocket A700 full operationbeginning Spring Quarter 2018ongoing
Signage posted by Student Ambassador2 weeks3/31/18
First Ambassador's quarterly report 1 week3/31/18
Summary staff meeting for future plans (especially for summer 2018 with full resident population at FHL)3 hoursMay 2018