The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is in the beginning of what could be a major reform to how it handles its food waste.
For every home football game since September of 2018, the Office of Sustainability, with the help of student volunteers, has been collecting, sorting and sending any game day food waste to the Cade UL Experimental Farm out in St. Martin Parish to compost.
Office of Sustainability Coordinator Monica Rowand estimated that each game generates slightly less than a ton of waste, and then went on to describe just how much work goes into collecting and maintaining it.
“It’s more work in that we are physically doing it, but that’s what we’re being — good stewards of the materials that we’re creating,” Rowand said. “It would just be someone else doing work, and it would be work in a landfill.”
Student volunteers first begin hand sorting the bags some time in the third quarter, and they usually end up staying around two hours after the game ends, according to Rowand.
The material then goes to the experimental farm. Manager of the farm Brian Kibbe then takes the waste and mixes it with hay, cow manure, wood chips, and sugarcane bagasse, which is essentially a dry residue that is left after the removal of juices from sugar cane.
Kibbe then has to turn the pile to keep oxygen in the mixture. He estimated he spends about an hour a day just on the compost piles.
“And the benefits are that it’s reduction in size, it doesn’t take up land area in a landfill, it doesn’t put off greenhouse gasses from methane that is produced from sitting organic material, and then also it creates a beneficial byproduct ... the key part of it is we create something that can be used afterwards.”
The combined efforts between the research farm and the Office of Sustainability is a mutually beneficial one.
Kibbe has worked at Cade farm since he graduated from UL Lafayette in 2000, and, according to him, the composting tools had barely seen any use for over a decade before Director of Sustainability Gretchen Vanicor reached out to him.
Vanicor helped set the farm up with other things it needed for composting and together they began the project.
“I think it’s a great thing; I mean, out here I try to do everything, I try to be a good steward of the land, you know,” Kibbe said. “No matter what we do out here we try to be good stewards, and I mean if we can take waste from a football game and turn it into something we can use I’m all for it.”
Reducing game day waste isn’t the ultimate goal, however; it’s just the start. The Office of Sustainability hopes to expand their composting efforts to include all campus food waste, but if they were to do so they would need a much larger facility — one that does not yet exist in Lafayette.
Lauren Prudhomme, a student involved with the Office of Sustainability, is currently working with a class to help engineer a commercial composting facility that they could later build for larger-scale composting.
Prudhomme and Joseph Nelson, another student with the office, explained how their efforts are inciting social changes as well as the given ecological changes.
“It’s hard to see like a huge impact right now because it’s so, you know, we’re laying out the groundwork,” Prudhomme said. “But, just the fact that we’re doing it and people are becoming more aware of it, I think is bringing more people to the football games, and just making more people aware of their responsibility to take care of their waste in a way that’s nicer to the environment.”
This informational and educational shift is something Lafayette needs, as Vanicor explained how, whether someone is recycling, composting, sending waste to a landfill or just giving food to a drive, she said most people don’t realize how much work goes into maintaining materials.
“We’ve sort of become under the impression as a society that, once you drop something in a can, whether its a compost or a trash can or a recycling can, that it just sort of goes away,” Vanicor said. “The reality of it is that there’s a whole huge process behind any of those. Whether it’s composting, landfill, recycling or food recovery there’s a process that goes into it.
“And sometimes it’s very mechanical and there’s facilities at an industrial scale that is maintained, sometimes it’s very human sort of work force, labor-oriented, but at every scale, any of those choices, there’s work that comes after that.”