What is compost?

Compost is organic waste resulting from food or plant sources that are decomposed by worms or other organisms. This decomposed organic matter is soil-like, rich in nutirents and minerals, and can be used in gardens as mulch or land cover to prevent moisture loss in soils. Types of composting include vermicomposting (composting with worms) and in-vessel composting.

Compost program mission

In June 2000 the UBC Compost Program was created to work towards waste reduction through both small scale and large scale composting. The department has invested in an in-vessel composting facility located at UBC’s South Campus.

The UBC Compost Program seeks to:

  • provide ongoing education and information on composting to the UBC community in order to raise campus participation and awareness for composting activities at UBC
  • provide consulting and support to campus departments, residences, businesses and student groups that wish to start small to mid-scale composting projects
  • monitor current composting projects and operations and ensure they are operating smoothly
  • work with students, staff and faculty to support compost-related research and hands on learning
  • divert UBC’s compostable materials from the landfill via in-vessel composting and using the finished compost on campus landscapes to promote a sustainable closed-loop process

Food scraps collection at UBC

Composting at UBC is a closed loop system. The organic waste produced on campus are made into a useful product for the UBC gardeners to use on university landscapes. The goal of the food scraps collection project is to supply necessary organic material to run through our in-vessel composter. This ongoing success of this program represents a significant step towards making UBC a sustainable campus.

UBC Waste Management collects both pre-consumer and post-consumer food scraps as well as plant wastes around campus. Pre-consumer food wastes consists mostly of kitchen scraps such as raw fruit and vegetable scraps, while post-consumer waste consists of cooked fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as meat and dairy. Other materials that are collected for the in-vessel composter include paper plates and cups, paper towels and napkins, and landscaping green waste.

Who participates in the program?

Transitioning from the earlier volunteer program, most buildings on campus now participate in the composting program, and the program continues to expand.  UBC’s Zero Waste Action Plan includes a target to provide food scraps collection at virtually all points across campus where significant food scraps are generated.

Foods scraps collection points include stand-alone green carts, however we are moving towards integrating food scraps into multi-stream recycling stations located in lobbies, hallways, lounges, office lunch rooms, and strategically located outdoor stations.

The program now includes UBC student and family housing buildings, and has welcomed private residences from the University Neighbourhood Association.

What can I compost in a green Food Scraps bin at UBC?

For a comprehensive list of what can and cannot be composted in UBC’s green Food Scrap bins please see the What Goes Where page on the UBC Sustainability website.

What kind of challenges does the program face?

One of the greatest challenges faced by our Organics Collection Program is contamination of the green Food Scrap bins. Often, we find non-compostable items in the green bins – items such as styrofoam, plastic bags, plastic cutlery and plates, metal cutlery, glass bottles, metal cans and even mirrors. Other items that contaminate the final compost product include juice boxes, milk cartons and plastic jam containers.  This makes can result in both the food scraps and recyclable materials contaminating the bin being sent to the landfill, instead of being composted and recycled.

Please help us keep the green Food Scrap bins clean by ensuring non-compostable items are not placed in there so we can reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills.

How do I participate in the organics collection program?

If you’re seeking ongoing service for your office, building or business on UBC’s Vancouver campus, please download an Organics Collection Program Form (PDF) and submit it via email. A representative from UBC Waste Management will contact you as soon as possible to let you know if we have the capacity to accept you into the program.

If you’re seeking event composting or recycling service for an event on UBC’s Vancouver campus, please download an Organics Collection Event Form (PDF) and submit it via email.

In-vessel composting facility

UBC’s large-scale in-vessel compost unit has been working hard to divert organic materials from the waste stream since September 2004. In-vessel composting refers to the decomposition of organic matter in a mechanized, fully enclosed vessel to produce a useful nutrient-rich end product that can be used in gardens.

UBC’s in-vessel composting facility:

  • is capable of processing 5 tonnes of organic waste daily
  • produces compost within two weeks (excluding compost maturation time)
  • is the first of its kind at a Canadian university
  • is a model of sustainable solid waste management
  • is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable
  • provides an opportunity for students and faculty to participate in research and site testing
  • is an award winning operation that models large-scale composting to the surrounding community, and other Canadian institutions

Unlike traditional composting processes, the fully-enclosed system allows for controlled, accelerated composting to occur. The maximal rates of microbial decomposition are maintained in the tunnel, such that no chemicals are required to achieve optimal temperature, moisture and oxygen levels. The enclosed system eliminates the risk of odours and vectors (such as rodents) therefore, dairy, meat, and grain products can also be composted in addition to vegetable scraps.

Our in-vessel composting system comes from Wright Environmental Management Inc. Visit the Wright Environmental Inc. website for more technical information on the in-vessel composting unit.

Environment benefits of in-vessel composting

Environmentally speaking, the project:

  • increases the environmental effectiveness of UBC’s solid waste management and responsible waste disposal practices
  • reduces the need to purchase fertilizers and top soil for campus landscapes – mature compost is applied to UBC gardens
  • decreases the amount of material sent to landfills
  • decreases harmful emissions emitted from UBC’s landfill materials
  • decreases the number of trips made to the Vancouver Transfer Station, Urban Wood Waste and Richmond BioRecovery