On January 1st, 2022, California’s SB 1383 went into effect. This initiative requires individuals and businesses to dispose of their organic food waste through composting.
This means that everyone, from a California family living in a coastal home to an out-of-state college student (like me) throwing together easy dinners in their university apartment’s kitchen, must compost.
[Read about California SB 1383 in this article here.]
Here’s my no-stress journey and how-to guide for composting as a college student!
Finding The Right College Compost Can
Currently, I am a student at the University of Southern California (USC) and consider myself lucky to live in a university apartment with a kitchen.
At first, I was nervous to begin composting. With my intolerance for unpleasant smells in my small college apartment and temperatures in Southern California maintaining a warm 75 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, I was unsure if composting in my kitchen was feasible. However, I was inspired by my mother, who composts at home in Virginia. I wanted to carry on the tradition of composting at home (and, of course, be a law-abiding citizen of the state of California).
After speaking with some other kitchen-composters I know from home for advice, I was recommended and purchased this compost pail. Not only is it rust-resistant with a capacity of one gallon, its airtight lid and replaceable activated charcoal filter eliminate odors. EPICA, this particular bin’s manufacturer, designed the bin and the filter to be cleaned with soap and water, further minimizing unnecessary waste, which pretty much sold me on this product. Its stainless steel design even prevents leaks (and doesn’t necessarily look like a small garbage can sitting on my counter)!
What am I composting?
Pretty much all of my food, except for dairy and meat products! In general, composting requires two colors: green and brown. Browns include yard waste items like dead leaves, branches and twigs. Greens, on the other hand, are most kitchen waste materials, including fruit and vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. The most nourishing compost piles include equal amounts of greens and browns. In short, you can compost fruits, vegetables, nutshells, paper, cardboard, houseplants, grass clippings, eggshells, hair, fur and more. (Avoid contaminating your compost with items such as dairy products, fats and greases, pet wastes, and yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides.)
Composting in my apartment is very easy because I don’t need to worry about yard waste and extraneous chemicals. I just had to get diligent about ensuring I didn’t forgetfully throw any yogurt-covered strawberries (and other dairy) from my breakfast into my bin. To make this sorting process easier for me and my roommates, I created a digital graphic that we saved to our camera rolls for easy reference (I figured printing is an unnecessary waste of paper in this case).
As I write this, I’m about six weeks into my college kitchen composting journey, and I’ve accumulated many, many banana peels. (Please remember to throw fruit and vegetable PLU stickers into the trash and not your compost! PLU stickers are not compost-friendly because they are not biodegradable, even though they are safe for human consumption.) There are also plenty of carrot greens, avocado skins, strawberry calyces and pineapple cores in my compost can.
How often am I emptying this bucket?
I empty my bucket every two to three weeks. My roommates tend to eat outside of our apartment much more than I do and I eat a lot of fruit. I am essentially the only one adding to my can, so the pile of scraps accumulates relatively slowly. If you’re in an apartment with three or four or more suitemates, I expect that your compost bucket would require emptying more frequently – at least every week or so.
Where do I throw the contents of my compost can?
If I had a backyard with appropriate square footage, I would definitely add my fruits and vegetables to a vermicompost and cultivate my very own compost. But, I live in a small one-bed, one-bath apartment in the center of USC’s Village, so I don’t have a lot of space to foster a subculture of worms, dried leaves and half-eaten cantaloupe. USC, however, began implementing their very own waste diversion initiatives years earlier, so properly disposing of my compost is no hassle and easy.
As of Spring 2022, USC’s Facilities Planning and Management expanded Trojans’ access to compost and recycling with the introduction of 98 “multi-stream waste bins” across all campuses and the Village. In the Village alone, there are 45 bins. Students can mindfully throw their trash away by choosing from the compost, recycling, landfill and liquid pour stations to sort and divert waste from the landfill.
These are the bins I empty my compost bucket into. Living on the second floor of my building, it takes me less than five minutes to run downstairs and empty my can! Appropriate signage on the bins illustrates what should and should not be disposed of in which bins, further helping students throw away trash wisely.
Where does USC’s compost go?
Composting in college makes quite the tangible difference: In 2019, USC Housing partnered with the university’s Undergraduate Student Government on a composting pilot at two residential college apartment complexes. Over just six weeks, eight students diverted over 50 pounds of compost from the landfill. And as a result of USC’s efforts to compost over the past 4 years due to AB 1826, USC’s organic waste diversion rate averages about 120 tons of organics monthly.
Now, where does this waste go? According to Gina Whisenant, Sustainability Manager at USC Facilities Planning and Management, organic waste collected “is hauled by the city franchise service provider, Republic Services, and taken to their recovery facility in Anaheim. The organics material is processed through a special piece of equipment referred to as [the] Mega Thor Turbo Separator. The final product comes out [as] an oatmeal consistency and is then transferred to Agromin, located in Chino Hills, where [it is] used to develop premium soil products, composts and mulches.”
What are some problems I’ve encountered?
Honestly, the biggest pain is washing the compost can after I dispose of my scraps. And, as the temperatures rise as the seasons change, I expect my emptying trips will be more frequent. But, these are very minor inconveniences; I don’t have many complaints about my college kitchen composting experience. I don’t have any issues with leaks or odors and the nuisance of having to empty my canister every so often is trivial in the grand scheme of things.
Administratively, I’ve found USC to be refreshingly transparent about their sustainability initiatives. I appreciate how they encourage students to take individual responsibility in maintaining clean waste streams and ultimately mitigating the effects of climate change.
In our floor’s trash room, there is even a small dispenser that holds compost-friendly food scrap bags. This encourages students who don’t have a compost bin to easily rid of their organic kitchen wastes. If your building or floor does not provide these bags, brown paper bags work just as well; pack a bag with scraps and store it in your freezer until you get a chance to drop it off! I noticed that our floor’s dispenser had been empty for a while, so I reached out to my building’s customer service center and within a few days, it was restocked.
No Reason Not To Compost
Though my experience is exclusive to USC students living in an apartment with a kitchen, it can be generalized to any apartment resident looking to divert organic waste from our landfills.
But, USC students – listen up.
You can request a compost pail for your room so you can collect waste and make fewer trips to the nearest compost collection bin. And, if you’re a USC student or staff or surrounding community member, the USC Garden Club offers a neighborhood composting alternative: the club operates a small-scale compost in the Parkside College garden. “We accept food scraps from everyone on campus, and the garden is always open for people to drop off. We have three tumblers, three vermi-composting systems, and a three stream wooden composting bin. These are all backyard systems, so they are more selective than what can be composted in an industrial facility,” Olivia Heffernan, president of SC Garden Club, wrote in an email.
In general, as students, ensure you are doing your best to adhere to California’s SB 1383 using USC’s composting system by practicing “sustainable habits such as ensuring you do not prepare more food than necessary [that you] will have to dispose of. Utilize reusables whenever possible. Students living in dorms and USC-owned housing have the opportunity to compost with green pails or small composting bins located next to the trash chutes. Lastly, please look for the new multi-stream waste bins currently being deployed throughout campus with composting opportunities,” Whisenant explained.
Again, I’m a college kid composting with the abundant resources my university provides. But, if you’re a college student in California and want to go the extra mile in waste diversion, soil rejuvenation and methane emission minimization, composting is easy, inexpensive and worth every tiny bit of extra effort. It is the law, anyway!
Get involved with sustainability initiatives on campus! Stay up-to-date with the USC Garden club and their events here and here. USC’s Office of Sustainability offers four other ways to get green as a Trojan:
- Join a sustainability student group.
- Subscribe to the Office of Sustainability newsletter and follow us on Instagram (@green.usc).
- Enroll in sustainability workshops and classes.
- Consider majoring or minoring in Environmental Studies.
Beyond composting, I leave you with three reminders to make more conscious and sustainable changes in your daily life:
- Make minor changes in your daily life, like taking public transportation or turning the water off while you brush your teeth. Get into the habit of being sustainable by starting small and sticking with it.
- Be a conscious consumer. Use your dollars to support companies or organizations that emphasize sustainability.
- Encourage those around you in positions of power to prioritize sustainability, whether that’s your student leaders, your department chair, or your political representatives. Use your voice to make sustainable change wherever you can!
Is your college composting? Do you want to compost but don’t know where to start? Do you need help with composting? Let me know in the comments below and I would be happy to help!