In the first year of an N.C. State University test program, students composted enough pizza boxes, if stacked atop one another, to reach the top of the Willis Tower in Chicago.
That’s more than 9,400 boxes soiled with grease and baked-on cheese that cannot go through the typical cardboard recycling process.
Last March, N.C. State’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Office set up two designated bins with pizza labels for students to discard their oleaginous cardboard along with oily napkins, pepperoni bits and leftover crusts.
The composting project was advertised around campus and was well-received, said Lauren McKinnis, outreach coordinator for the Waste Reduction and Recycling Office. Four additional collection bins were added last fall to help keep up with demand, McKinnis said.
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Pizza is a staple food group for college students and the world’s most popular food, according to 2014 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study found that more than a quarter of American boys between 12 and 19 will eat pizza on any given day.
N.C. State juniors Kyle Morris and T.J. Dixon said they both order pizza a couple of times a month. They said freshman dorms place the largest pizza orders for end of semester parties.
“If I have to feed a lot of people, I order pizza,” Morris said.
Inquiries from afar
Students in the university’s EcoVillage, an on-campus living and learning community of about 90 students interested in sustainability, helped market the composting program by painting pizzas on the collection bins, hosting an educational pizza party and creating a promotional video.
McKinnis said the project has gotten local and national attention.
“I have received a phone call almost every week from some kind of group interested in doing something similar,” she said. “There is a widespread interest.”
While a number of schools contacted her about the program, McKinnis said she doesn’t know of any that have implemented one of its own yet.
That may be because starting up a composting program can be expensive, McKinnis said. NCSU was already composting food waste, so going green on pizza boxes proved cost-efficient. The dumpsters are emptied weekly and taken with all other campus dining facility food waste to Brooks Contractor, a compost facility in Goldston where the waste decomposes into soil.
Another expansion of the composting project was the installation of two food-waste stations in the Talley Student Union, a campus hub with several restaurants, including a deli, a Mexican grill and the Red Sky Pizza Company.
McKinnis said the stations were put in during the fall semester and are accompanied by signs listing what items can and cannot be composted.