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New state grant will allow Sac State to turn uneaten Dining Commons food scraps into usable compost

Sac State's first on-site composter, funded through a CalRecycle grant, will soon turn uneaten food scraps into eco-friendly compost. The new machine will add to other efforts on campus, including the composting of pre-consumer food waste at the on-campus BAC Yard, shown here. (Sacramento State file)

Food will no longer go to waste at Sacramento State’s Dining Commons.

Uneaten food scraps will soon become eco-friendly compost, thanks to new state funding allowing Sac State to purchase the University’s first on-site composter. The compost will fertilize plants and lawns on campus as well as at local public schools.

The composter, funded through a $179,618 grant from the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), will provide a major boost to the University’s sustainability efforts.

“This is a huge step towards Sacramento State’s goal to be a zero waste campus by 2030,” said University Director of Energy and Sustainability Ryan Todd. “It’s not waste anymore. It’s staying here and getting converted to usable material.”

Composting reduces the amount of food and plant waste that would otherwise wind up in landfills, where it decays and contributes to methane emissions. Composted material also improves soil by helping it retain more water and make food more nutritious.

“I’m hoping this is successful, because then we can use it as an example for the rest of the campus. It would be really nice to have all of our organic material, our post-consumer food waste, going into one of these units and not sending anything off campus.” -- Ryan Todd, Sac State director of Energy and Sustainability

Sac State currently composts pre-consumer organic waste, such as kitchen scraps not contaminated by fat or dairy items along with fallen leaves and other yard waste at the on-campus Bioconversion and Agricultural Collective Yard, also known as the BAC Yard.

But other organic waste like uneaten food on students’ plates can’t be composted in the BAC Yard, Todd said, and instead gets compacted and hauled off to a landfill in Yolo County for composting.

Once the new BioTech Americas machine is installed, all Dining Commons food waste will be composted on-site.

“It uses heat and agitators to mix the material around and composts food waste in 24 hours,” Todd said. “We can take it to the BAC Yard to mix in with the other finished product, and that will give us a really nice compost rich with nutrients.”

Because Sac State already makes more compost than it needs to fertilize the campus grounds, the Office of Sustainability has an agreement with the Sacramento City Unified School District to share its compost, Todd said.

“When the district needs compost, they shoot us an email and tell us what school,” he said. “The grounds guys will scoop some up, stick it in one of the big trucks and deliver the compost to the school.”

Todd said the Dining Commons was chosen as a test case because Aramark, which runs the eatery for student housing, has a low contamination rate.

“There have been a few months this year when technically the Dining Commons was zero waste,” Todd said. “Ninety percent or more of the waste leaving Dining Commons was organic material and able to be composted.”

Todd added the new composter would be up and running within the next year.

“I’m hoping this is successful, because then we can use it as an example for the rest of the campus,” Todd said. “It would be really nice to have all of our organic material, our post-consumer food waste, going into one of these units and not sending anything off campus.”

Todd said the new composting machine will divert an estimated 958 tons of food waste from the landfill over 10 years.

The grant award was announced during a CalRecycle Board of Directors meeting Dec. 19. The board awarded a total of $130.6 million in funding to 23 agencies, including Sac State, for projects that will, collectively, cut pollution by over two million metric tons, Deputy Director of the Division of Circular Economy Zoe Heller said.

“That’s the equivalent of taking 445,000 cars off the road,” Heller said at the meeting.

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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