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"Dirty work" turns garbage into gold
Camille Delavaux and Rachel Henke dump buckets of food scraps into a compost pile on the Goodman Campus…

Every day in the university’s dining halls, students push their unwanted bites of food into garbage bins. Some of that food becomes part of a compost pile in the Lehigh Community Garden on the Goodman Campus, thanks to the effort of two undergraduate students.

Camille Delavaux ’14 and Rachel Henke ’14 head an exploratory composting initiative, called “Garbage to Gold,” with the purpose of testing the feasibility of a campus-wide composting system.

Delavaux and Henke, who both major in earth and environmental science, drive around campus every Tuesday and Thursday and collect buckets of food scraps from the U.C. dining hall and two Greek houses, Kappa Alpha Theta and Psi Upsilon.

They deliver the buckets to the community garden on the Goodman Campus and add their contents to a compost pile that now contains approximately 1,500 gallons of scrap.

This “dirty work” is not the hardest part of their study. Henke and Delavaux also track data on every aspect of the process to ensure that the pile is meeting standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Temperature, pH and moisture levels are regularly recorded with an electronic probe.

Sustaining their enthusiasm

The smell of days-old hamburger can sometimes be a bit much to bear, but the students maintain their enthusiasm by thinking about the potential effect their work has on sustainability at Lehigh.

“We do this work because we don’t want to see the food scraps sent away to an incinerator,” said Delavaux. “We want to see the organic waste recycled, possibly in the form of fertilizer to be used in campus landscaping.”

Lehigh currently manages organic waste by sending it 23 miles away to be composted at the Rodale Institute. While Delavaux and Henke are happy Lehigh is already composting the waste, they see the transportation costs as undesirable and unnecessary.

“There is more than enough space on the Goodman Campus to house all the university’s composting needs,” said Henke. “The university is missing out not only on a chance to reduce its carbon footprint but also on financial gain, since the compost could be used as fertilizer.”

Garbage to Gold is directly working towards two goals in Lehigh’s 2012 Campus Sustainability Plan—creating a campus-wide composting program and moving toward zero waste.

“I’ll be very happy,” said Henke, “if I graduate knowing I have had a lasting impact on Lehigh’s commitment to being eco-friendly. That might be my most memorable accomplishment.”