The Anatomy of a Compost Shift

At the very end of my freshman year, I decided I wanted to be a Green Advisor (GA). Green Advisors are student workers who liaise between the Office of Sustainability, students, and other members of our campus community.

Part of the 2021-2022 GA cohort.

There are three prongs to the GA role. The first is Residential Peer Leadership, where GAs are assigned to dorms. In this setting, the GA educates their residents on waste sorting, hosts sustainability-related events, and assists with zero waste efforts in move-out.

The second is the Sustainability Advocates program, where GAs partner with various Swarthmore offices to find ways to further integrate environmental consciousness into our campus culture. For my project, I worked with Off-Campus Study to work on the relationship between sustainability and study abroad.

Final presentation day with our Sustainability Advocates.

The third is the composting program. At Swarthmore, we have three different waste streams: trash, recycling, and compost. It is the GA’s job to teach students what goes in these waste streams and maintain the purity of the compostables. By that, I mean we sort compost. By hand. 

Sharples takeout containers, stacked nicely in a compost toter.

Every GA has a two-hour compost shift every week in the compost shed located between the Science Center and the Crum Woods. These shifts are times to listen to music, chat with a compost partner, and play a part in maintaining the College’s Zero Waste Goal

Last year, my compost partner Justin and I spent hours sorting together on Monday afternoons. We had a collaborative Spotify playlist and chatted about our lives and our school work and whatever else happened to come up. 

Yay for Justin!

We sort the compost to make sure that when we send it to our off-campus composter, Kitchen Harvest, it’s clear of items that won’t break down. All the single-use dining wares at Swarthmore (largely takeout containers and hot and cold cups) are compostable. We also have biodegradable utensils, but they don’t break down as well at Kitchen Harvest so we have to pull those out. College students sometimes make mistakes, so we also check to ensure that things like condiment packets, plastic water bottles, and staples aren’t in there. Sometimes we even find a metal fork (or four)!

These forks were thoroughly washed and returned to Sharples.

Occasionally, things end up in the compost that are definitively not supposed to be there. 

Broken or not, these do not decompose well.

Almost there, but not quite (plastic = not compostable but bread = compostable).

A whole dining set! Oh boy! (Featuring Sharples plates, utensils, and cups, as well as a reusable takeout container and bamboo utensils).

There was no actual laptop in this box.

No thank you.

This is from the day I found the positive rapid tests. Noooooot a happy camper.

All this to say, I hope you continue to be conscientious about what you compost! And thank a GA today 🙂

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