Emory compost streams temporarily diverted to landfills

Emory Report | Sept. 29, 2020

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Although Emory’s compost is currently being sent to landfills after the vendors that haul and process it were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is encouraged to keep sorting trash in the recycle, compost and landfill bins while Campus Services negotiates with new vendors.

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Emory Campus Services has announced that the university’s compost streams — including food waste from kitchens and green bins around campus, as well as animal bedding — are being temporarily sent to landfills.

This short-term diversion was necessitated when the vendors that haul and process Emory’s compost either went out of business or cut back operations, victims of the financial crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation was exacerbated by above-average rainfall, which made the fields in which compost is stored and rotated inaccessible.

Campus Services is currently negotiating with potential new vendors and hopes to have the situation remedied within a few months. 

“During an audit of the compost waste stream, it was discovered that our vendors are no longer able to properly handle our waste streams, resulting in compost going to the landfill in lieu of the composting facility. Contributing factors include the COVID-19 pandemic, financial markets, supply chain constraints and regional weather conditions,” explains Robin Morey, vice president of Campus Services and chief planning officer.

“We rely on the Emory community’s robust participation and the health of private markets to achieve our goals, and our Campus Services and Central Procurement teams are diligently exploring the national and regional market’s ability to properly handle our waste streams,” Morey says. 

In the meantime, everyone is encouraged to keep sorting their trash in the recycle, compost and landfill bins just as they have been doing. Do not put compost items in recycle bins, which would contaminate the recycling stream. In addition, limit food waste and single-use items as much as possible.

“We remain committed to our goal of diverting 95 percent of our waste from landfills by 2025, which was set in the Emory Waste Management Policy,” says Ciannat Howett, associate vice president for resilience, sustainability and economic inclusion. “We are confident we’ll be able to meet that goal, and that we’ll quickly overcome this short-term challenge.”

Howett says the diversion from landfills is critical for two reasons: methane from landfills is a significant contributor to climate change and the landfills themselves help perpetuate institutionalized racism. 

“Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and landfills are sited in low-income, frequently African-American communities,” she says. “We are committed to minimizing both of those impacts.”