Local colleges develop green solutions for food waste - LancasterOnline: News

Local colleges develop green solutions for food waste

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 6:04 pm | Updated: 12:00 am, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Don't expect to see any "Animal House" food fights in the dining halls at Elizabethtown or Franklin & Marshall colleges.

In fact, they don't even throw away the food anymore on either campus.

Both colleges have overhauled dining etiquette so that leftovers no longer are simply thrown away.

At a first-in-the-nation project at Elizabethtown College, table scraps end up mixed with manure at a nearby dairy farm to be burned and turned into electricity.

Water used in the process is recycled rather than having to be treated at a sewage plant.

"It's just another piece of the equation," said Joe Metro, the college's facilities director. He said the college has long-range plans to be "greener."

At F&M, where food waste was the biggest part of the college's trash bill, scraps now are collected and trucked to a new composting facility at Oregon Dairy.

There, it is mixed with cow manure and ends up as high-quality compost that will grace local golf courses and athletic fields.

"This is really neat, thanks," a student recently said to Thomas G. Simpson, F&M's sustainability coordinator, as he made the save-your-food pitch to munching diners.

The food recycling is just the latest sustainability move at F&M.

The college's dining room, which serves three meals a day to 2,400 students, went trayless a couple years ago. Not only does that mean less water wasted on washing trays, having to juggle their food encourages students to take less.

At a campus coffee shop, students get a discount for bringing their own mugs.

Any unused food is placed into containers fitted with biodegradable bags.

Then the food is trucked by Edie Waste, a Marietta organic food waste hauler, to the Oregon Dairy Organics composting facility in Manheim Township.

The new facility is a much-touted project to provide a market-based solution to the county's excess manure problem.

Elizabethtown College's unique leftovers-to-power project grew out of the bond between Metro and Mount Joy farmer Mike Brubaker of Brubaker Farms, which two years ago started up an anaerobic methane digester that makes electricity out of methane gas from cow manure.

Since November 2009, the college's food and the considerable water used in food preparation have been added to the mix.

That's made possible by grinding and dewatering equipment purchased from Somat, a Lancaster-based company whose food-waste-reduction equipment is found in cruise ships, schools and every surface ship in the U.S. Navy.

In the college's dining hall, kitchen workers remove student trays from a revolving carousel and scrape food into a running water collection system, like an oversized home kitchen garbage disposal. A grinder reduces everything into a slurry, then an extractor removes 80 percent of the water.

The food waste and all the water used in the process - about 4,400 gallons per week - are taken in separate tubs to Brubaker Farms, where they are fed into the manure digester.

Waste left over from the digester is sterilized and used on the farm as bedding and fertilizer.

The college is saving $12,000 to $15,000 per year in waste-hauling charges and is using less water.

College officials say no other college can boast of using its food waste to generate electricity while recycling all the water used in the process.

Somat officials hope that changes. The company has used Elizabethtown as a prototype and likes what it sees.

"Hopefully, the other colleges will pick up where Elizabethtown left off and do the same thing," Somat spokeswoman Allison Freeman said.


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