Last spring, it was not uncommon to spot Matt Melillo ’11 carrying buckets of food waste from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house to a composting machine at Rathbone Dining Hall.
Melillo’s efforts were part of an experiment. With help from Dining Services, SigEp’s brothers gathered food waste from their kitchen for a trial period to determine the amount of food waste the house generated each week that could be composted.
“It seemed we were generating enough waste that it would be a good idea to get a composter,” said Melillo, who was house manager when the initiative began. “It was something we wanted to do to be more environmentally friendly.”
After this experiment, the fraternity wrote a proposal for funding to buy the composter, which was approved by Green Action, the student-run environmental organization, and then by the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group (LEAG).
SigEp used the funding to buy a 5-gallon compost bucket—a Gaiam Sun-Mar Continuous-Use Auto Flow 400 Composter—and install it in its kitchen last summer. The fraternity’s goal is to save fuel and money by reducing the amount of waste transported from its chapter house to the landfill.
The fraternity now fills the bucket about twice a week with food waste. Depending on its composition, the waste takes six to 10 weeks to degrade.
“We are going to be getting our first batch of fully composted food waste in the next few days,” Melillo said. “We’ll use it for landscaping at our house.”
The beginning of a trend
Melillo, who oversees the project, is considering purchasing one or two additional compost buckets for the SigEp house. He is also posting signs around the house that list foods that can be thrown in the bucket and those that cannot, which include oils, dairy and meat products.
“I want to educate my brothers so they don’t even have to think,” he said. “When they’re cleaning up their plates after dinner, they’ll just scrape it in and think of it as second nature.”
SigEp has received assistance from a trio of staff members—David Joseph, executive director of student auxiliary services; Gary Falasca, director of facilities services; and Ozzie Breiner, director of residential services—who have an interest in making Lehigh’s campus greener.
In addition, Delicia Nahman joined the office of facilities services and campus planning in September as Lehigh’s first sustainability coordinator.
“With the hiring of a sustainability coordinator, I think Lehigh is making a statement that sustainability is an important initiative and is something we want to see grow and expand,” Joseph said.
Joseph noted that Lehigh received a C this year in its College Sustainability Report Card from the Sustainable Endowment Institute, but said the university is moving in the right direction.
“Obviously there is room for improvement, but we’re doing more and more.”
Breiner echoed Joseph’s sentiments. “There are schools out there doing more advanced things than we are, but we’re gaining momentum,” he said.
SigEp appears to be leading a new trend. Alpha Phi sorority has won Green Fund approval for a composter this semester. More Greek houses are expected to follow suit, now that the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs has added environmental criteria to the process by which it accredits the university’s Greek organizations.
“Lehigh is absolutely supportive of green initiatives,” said Joseph. “We’re looking for more student groups to come up with Green Fund proposal ideas.”