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Area colleges are knee-deep in composting — and they like it

Schools educate students on the importance of a green lifestyle, set up bins in dining and residence halls.

Freshman Layla Williams recycles her napkin in the Center Stage dining hall at Emerson College.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

When Pranali Ashara is finished preparing her lunch, she skips the trash can. Instead, she sweeps the scraps into a small yogurt container. Once it fills up, Ashara heads to Tobin Community Center to dump the scraps into compost bins.

In 2015, the City of Boston launched Project Oscar, a community composting program with 15 drop-off locations around Boston, such as Tobin Community Center. Last August, Boston took it one step further, providing free curbside food waste collection for residents.

Now college students have taken responsibility into their own hands, introducing compost bins in residence and dining halls across Boston. Resources provided on college campuses make it easier for students to stay eco-conscious, requiring no trips to the nearest T station to get to the closest city drop-off location — and no yogurt-turned-composting containers.

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“Student interest has always been there,” said Ashara, a sophomore at Northeastern University and director of external relations at Composting at Northeastern University, or CANU. “I think the ability for universities, in logistics, to compost have increased in usability and feasibility.”

The results of a CANU survey were clear: Students wanted to compost; they just did not have the proper resources to do so in their dorm rooms. With help from Northeastern’s Student Government Association, legislation was passed in November 2021 and compost bins were placed in East Village in October 2022.

Educating the public is also an undertaking.

At Emerson, this may even require someone standing near compost bins in the dining halls to teach students which bin to put their trash in, said Ava Tribe, a sophomore at Emerson College and president of Emerson Green Collective.

Since then, Tribe has worked with Emerson’s sustainability office to expand the compost bin program from the dining halls to Little Building this month, making it the college’s first residential building to have compost bins in all of its communal spaces.

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Composting requires a team effort.

“Composting programs take so many different key players, between administrators and students,” said Giovanna Eichner, a senior at Boston College. “It’s building a coalition of people to get the project going. It’s gotten easier as environmental issues have become more prevalent.”

As the director of environmental sustainability of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, Eichner helped leverage funding and the expansion of composting bins for a pilot program started by the college’s food sustainability club. In 2018, the bins expanded into six residence halls, dining halls, and an indoor basketball arena.

Naturally, community projects come with difficulties. Students who are new to composting may often throw non-compostable items in bins, such as meat, dairy products, and plastic. This frustrates student leaders, because the whole thing may have to be thrown out due to contamination, Tribe said.

“In dining halls, when people are not necessarily thinking, they’re eating or chatting, and then they’re throwing out their food,” Eichner said. “[Composting] is not a number one priority.”

Regardless, empathy usually trumps that frustration. They were all beginners at one point.

“When I started composting, I made a lot of mistakes,” Ashara said. “We are more understanding about issues like that.”

Most student-led composting programs in Boston are relatively new, all implemented within the past few years. The next step is to extend these programs off campus. For now, students living off campus will have to use municipal composting or do-it-yourself programs.

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As city students yearn to stay connected with nature and help make their campus green, it’s safe to say their passions are rooted in their “climate anxiety.” This is best conquered by trying to get the community involved.

“Being in Boston [with] weather patterns changing and being able to first-hand see climate change happen, I think it’s making more people nervous,” Tribe said. “It makes people [think], Maybe we should be doing something about it.

Cathy Ching can be reached cathy.ching@globe.com.


Cathy Ching can be reached at cathy.ching@globe.com. Follow her @bycathyching.