Engineering Student Spearheads Residential Dining Food Composting Project

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

University of Iowa News Release

University of Iowa engineering student Holly Moriarty spent the spring semester of her sophomore year wiping counters and sorting silverware at the Hillcrest Market Place. As closing time approached during each shift, she'd watch as massive pans of uneaten food went down the disposal or into the dumpster.

The sight was, in one word, depressing.

So Moriarty decided to do something about it. In the spring 2006 semester, Moriarty and three classmates penned "The University of Iowa Compost Project," a 27-page document detailing the benefits of composting pre-consumer food waste at the Hillcrest Market Place.

What started as a class assignment led to roughly 17.36 tons of food waste diverted from the Hillcrest kitchen for composting in the spring 2007 semester. That's more than 34,000 pounds of browning lettuce, stale pizza and hardened casserole.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations honored Moriarty with its Innovative Waste Management Project Award at the Ninth annual Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference in Coralville.

"I was notified in August that Jen Jordan from the Iowa City Landfill was nominating me for the award," said Moriarty, a Peosta native, senior majoring in environmental engineering and vice president of Engineers for a Sustainable World student group. "Just a few weeks ago I got a letter in the mail that said that I was voted unanimously to get the award. I was pretty excited."

Jordan was one of several key players who brought the project to fruition. As the recycling coordinator for the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, Jordan jumped at the chance to launch the landfill's first-ever food composting project. She, Moriarty, staff with UI Facilities Management Landscape Services, and University Housing and Iowa City officials formed a yearlong pilot project to haul roughly one ton of pre-consumer food waste per week from Hillcrest to the landfill for composting.

The food waste compost, which takes six to nine months to prepare, has tested high in nitrogen and other nutrients that benefit soil.

"This is a great project that shows all sorts of possibilities, especially for students," Jordan said. "When you work on stuff at the university and you follow through on it, good things can come of it. I'm really excited for Holly. It reflects well on the university, it reflects well on the city, and it's great environmentally."

Moriarty's work began as an assignment in Sustainable Systems, a class taught by Professor Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. Where most students would have received a grade and moved on to the next assignment, Moriarty ran with the report, presenting it to University Residential Dining, Iowa City Landfill, and UI Facilities Management personnel.

Moriarty convinced Hillcrest Market Place staff and the landfill of the project's economic and environmental potential. To transport about one ton of food waste per week from Hillcrest to the landfill during the Spring 2007 semester would cost a mere $1,933 according to the landfill's predictions. Though the total amount spent on labor and supplies was higher than expected, so were the returns. The landfill processed roughly 2,720 tons more food waste than its initial predictions.

Since the project took off in January, Moriarty's workload has grown lighter. Now, she and Jordan are concentrating their efforts on finding grant money to make the pilot project permanent at Hillcrest Market Place. Also on the agenda is an increasing the amount of solid waste the landfill can compost. Because of a restriction from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa City site can compost no more than two tons of non-yard waste per week.

The two-ton limit prevents Jordan from reaching her ultimate goal of composting all food waste in Iowa City. A potential increase would have large-scale benefits at Hillcrest alone. According to Fred Kurt, manager of the Hillcrest Market Place, the kitchen could collect five times more waste if it took post-consumer food waste -- that is, food left on students' plates -- into consideration.

"To do it on the post-consumer side would be a huge additional challenge, but I think, in the end, it'd be worth the challenge," Kurt said. "That's a different beast when you get five times the amount of food coming from that other end, but that's why we started out small with this pilot project on the pre-consumer side."

For more information about the project, see a City of Iowa City press release at http://www.icgov.org/news.asp?ID=5733. For information about an upcoming "Clean your plate" campaign at Hillcrest and Burge Hall Market Places, visit http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2007/october/101907student_dining.html.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Holly Moriarty, holly-moriarty@uiowa.edu; Fred Kurt, Hillcrest Market Place, 319-335-9368, fred-kurt@uiowa.edu; Jennifer Jordan, Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, 319-887-6160; Wendy Moorehead, UI Facilities Management; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012, george-mccrory@uiowa.edu; Writer: Soheil Rezayazdi

OTHER INFORMATION: http://www.facilities.uiowa.edu/ec/compost.htm and http://www.icgov.org/news.asp?ID=5733