Composting at UCSB

UCSB is dedicated to reducing waste whenever and wherever possible through sustainable practices. Our program infrastructure processes waste on and off-site, but a large portion of our campus community is unaware of all our composting capabilities. Several departments collaborate on various programs at our campus as part of our goal to achieve Zero Waste by 2020.

Compost Drop-Off Bins

Anyone at UCSB can use one of our compost drop-off bins for any food or compostable products! They are located at the Arbor, Coral Tree Cafe, Courtyard Cafe, the Ellison courtyard, behind the UCen, outside the Library and the Bren courtyard. Most are large solar-powered compacting units with yellow doors, while others look just like our other 4-unit tan trash & recycling bins on campus with an extra space for compost. Compost collected from these receptacles is added to our commercial compost pickup (see Dining Commons and UCen composting below).

All foods purchased from Coral Tree Cafe, Courtyard Cafe, and the Arbor are served in compostable to-go containers including plates, boxes, soup cups, coffee cups, and paper liners. Pre-packaged items like chips, snack bars, and pre-bottled beverages must still go into the recycling or landfill bins however. Soon ALL food vendors will be using compostable items as more food outlets convert their packaging in addition to all new food outlets that are required to use compostable food-ware.

To find where all compost bins are located on campus check out the UCSB Interactive Map. Click the the “Layers” tab then select the “Compost” option. The yellow rectangles indicate compost bin locations. Click on the highlighted locations to see more information.

UCEN & Dining Services Composting

All food waste generated at the Housing and Residential Services Dining Commons and at the UCen is diverted from the landfill through an industrial composting program. Both departments collect all scraps from the kitchen including fruit & vegetable peels, stems, and even meats and dairy that can’t be processed onsite by Dept. of Public Worms Worm Wranglers. The Dining Commons also composts post-consumer food waste left on dining-ware after meals. Several outlets at the UCen such as Root 217, Romaine’s, and NIcoletti’s, have converted to all compostable products like compostable cups, plates, utensils, to-go containers, and of course napkins.

Collectively, these two departments compost about 90 tons of food waste every month. The Dept. of Public Worms is not equipped to deal with such large quantities on campus, so all Dining Commons and UCen food waste is picked up once a week by Marborg then taken to a commercial composting facility called Engel & Grey in Santa Maria.

There are several advantages to using a commercial composting facility. Most importantly, Engel & Gray allows us to compost almost 20 times more food waste than we would otherwise be able to handle on site, and therefore makes us one of the better composting campuses in the country. It also allows us to compost a wider variety of foods like meat, dairy and oils that are not a problem for a large scale facility but can cause issues in our small system. Engel & Gray’s 90-day cycle (as opposed to the 45-day cycle most facilities use) also gives us the opportunity to use compostable plates, utensils, and other items with confidence that they will completely break down.

Department of Public Worms student-staff pick up pre-consumer food waste from the Carrillo, Ortega, and De La Guerra Dining Commons. We feed around 100 pounds of food waste to thousands of red wriggler worms each week and we use the extra food that cannot be fed to the worms in our hot compost stalls. The worms turn unwanted food waste into amazing compost and liquid soil amendments that can noticeably improve your plants. See our page on Worm Tea Sales (coming soon!) for more information on how you can benefit from our efforts!

For more information on what we do on campus, read more – About Us.

Grounds to Grounds

Grounds to Grounds is another major on-site composting program operated by Facilities Grounds Staff. They collect buckets of used coffee grounds and filters from the all campus coffee carts each day and add them straight into the campus landscaping beds where they break down quickly, naturally replenishing nitrogen in the soil. You may have heard that coffee grounds are too acidic to be used directly on plants like this, but in reality almost all of the acidity is washed out during the brewing process. This very simple program diverts roughly 2 tons of coffee grounds each month from the landfill, with huge peaks during finals week of course.

Family Student Housing Composting Program

Storke and West Campus Family Student Housing complexes have their own on-site composting programs! Family Student Housing residents are encouraged to drop off their kitchen food waste in the black igloo-shaped bins located near the garden plots at each end of the garden areas. To avoid pests, pathogens and odors, we ask that residents do put meat, dairy, or oils in the black bins. Department of Public Worms staff adds the food waste to compost stalls after sorting our any trash or recyclables, turns the piles regularly, and once a pile has finished composting, the compost will be available for use by FSH residents in their garden plots. In this way, our organization encourages our fellow students to use organic soil amendments instead of synthetic or artificial fertilizers.

Green waste (leaves, grass, weeds, etc.) is compostable on an industrial scale, but our compost stalls are not equipped to handle this type of woody material. We ask residents place green waste in the large, beige Marborg dumpsters OR the large green yard waste bin and it will be separated at the local landfill as part of their mulch program.

For more detailed information about the Family Student Housing Compost Program, visit our page here.