Campus News

UK Recycling Starts New Compost Program at University Flats

Food waste containers at University Flats
Food waste container at University Flats.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 8, 2021) — At the beginning of this semester, University of Kentucky Recycling, the Student Government Association (SGA) and UK Residence Life launched the Residence Hall Food Waste program at University Flats. Currently 26 apartments — over 100 students — are voluntarily participating.

Students who sign up for the program are now collecting their food waste — fruit peels, vegetable scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds — for composting. Food waste is collected in a small, green counter container, affectionately known as Grubby. The Grubby is an easy way to transport the food waste from the student’s kitchen to the large food waste container in the compactor room.

UK Recycling  picks up all food waste from campus, combines it with coffee grounds and other food waste from campus dining facilities, and transports it to UK’s Little Research Center in Woodford County where it will be combined with a carbon source (wood chips, leaves or animal bedding) in a windrow system to speed the conversion to a nutrient-rich compost. Part of the compost will then return to campus for UK Grounds to use for campus landscaping.

This new program is another important step toward UK’s sustainability goals of reducing the amount of material going to the landfill. There are plans to eventually expand the program to other student housing facilities on campus.

In a little over a month since the program started, students have diverted over 50 lbs. of food waste from the landfill.

”In order to achieve our sustainability goal of increasing our diversion rate to 50%, we need to start re-evaluating our ‘waste,’” says Joanna Ashford, recycling coordinator for the university. “Food should be viewed as a resource, not a waste material, and our students understand that. Our students are eager to get involved with sustainability efforts on campus, and this is one more example of a student-led initiative!”

The program concept and momentum came from Caleb Gooden, a sophomore at UK, who approached UK Recycling about starting a food waste program at University Flats last October. Caleb serves as a coordinator of innovation for SGA and works to start a new project each semester on campus. 

“During my work in food service and for Campus Kitchen at UK, I saw behind the scenes into the amount of food waste that is actually produced by people, and once you see it up close it's pretty staggering. My roommate, Addison Lander, had taken notice of this as well and wanted a way to fight the vast waste production,” said Gooden. “Many students, including myself, want to be part of change but are unsure of where to start. This project provides an easy and free way to get that start. We have seen an increase in participation and received numerous questions about composting or environmental policies at UK. It is refreshing to see this many students taking an interest, educating themselves and working to make a difference.”

To learn more about this program, check out UK Recycling’s website. If you are a resident of University Flats and want to sign up for the program, complete the registration form. To learn more about the compost program at UK, check out this compost video.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.