USC Housing implements compost bins in residential colleges

USC Housing placed 40 composting bins in several residential colleges to progress campus sustainability and raise awareness about environmental conservatism. (Vivian Wu | Daily Trojan)

USC Housing installed 40 composting bins across residential colleges Wednesday after a pilot program led by student volunteers to introduce the sustainable practice into residents’ routines last year. The residential colleges include Parkside Apartments, Webb Tower Residential College, Nemirovsky and Bohnett Residential College, New North Residential College, Marks Tower, Marks Hall, Trojan Hall, Cardinal ‘n Gold and Troy East/Troy Hall. 

The campaign began with a pilot program led by last year’s USG director of sustainability affairs, Catherine Atkinson. The student-run study was conducted at Cardinal Gardens and Nemirovsky Residential College to identify students’ interest in implementing a compost program. 

According to Isabella Caltabiano, USG’s current director of sustainability affairs, USC Housing wished to only place compost bins in the residential colleges to assess how students would interact with the new initiative. 

“You definitely can’t start rolling out a brand new thing all at once, everywhere,” Caltabiano said. “Could you imagine if something goes wrong? … I hope that in the future, USC will be composting in all its residential colleges and lining up with the Sustainability 2028 Goals.”

The Sustainability 2028 Plan, which is still being formulated, will provide guidelines for students, faculty, staff and senior administrators to progress campus sustainability through water conservation, waste diversion and energy conservation efforts similar to the 2020 sustainability plan. The plan encourages collaboration with various teams on campus, including Facilities Management Services, Transportation Services, Auxiliary Services and student government. 

Auxiliary Services Sustainability Administrator Nichelle Mitchell-Huizar, who collaborated with Atkinson on the composting initiative, said the pilot program comprised of eight students who voluntarily composted over a six-week period, diverting 50 pounds of food away from landfills. Mitchell-Hulzar said the initial success motivated the team to expand composting to the rest of campus. “We can get our recycling together, and we can get the waste stream together,” Mitchell-Huizar said. “We can just be contributing on a daily basis without a super effort because everybody thinks it’s a task to be sustainable.”

According to Jerry Lewis, associate director of administration and sustainability for USC Housing, before the pilot program, the composting system was not installed along with recycling and trash bins because there would be limited student engagement with composting bins. Lewis said the new composting bins are placed in freshman residential halls so students learn the importance of composting early and continue to practice composting beyond their year in the dorms.

Lewis said flyers containing information about the new composting bins system will be emailed to every student in the seven residential colleges. The email will contain a QR code for a form students can fill out to express interest in the compost initiative and request that USC Housing delivers compost bins to their residences.

USC Housing plans to spread awareness on the newly implemented composting bins through flyers and magnets. 

Grace Martinez, a senior majoring in public relations, designed the magnets that illustrate which products would be categorized as recycling, compost or waste. According to Mitchell-Huizar, the magnets will be placed on the students’ refrigerators during semesterly USC Housing room checks. 

Student sustainability advocate Nicole Bakar will lead a booth at the Trojan Farmers Market on Wednesdays to teach students how to use the new compost bins. She said she’s glad that the University is slowly increasing sustainability initiatives in student housing. 

“I feel like we’ve honestly been quite behind [on climate change] as such an extravagant top-20 university, and it’s really cool that we’re finally making a change,” said Bakar, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “We’ll be happy with the baby steps … We’re really working on separating instead of contaminating and fully increasing the awareness of students because that’s honestly the root of it.”

Lewis said the biggest challenge USC Housing faces is the logistics behind the different residential colleges, including questions on the appropriate frequency of compost bin collection. However, Lewis said he believes the problem needs further monitoring through the next few months before it can be resolved. Along with the logistical clarifications, he said that there should be strong communication with individuals involved to help the program succeed.

“[Another barrier is] getting everybody on the same page,” Lewis said. “From custodians to the housing managers to even the other [associate directors] that control the area.”

With the Sustainability 2028 Plan in mind, Lewis hopes the composting system will continue to expand on campus. 

“Eventually, every location that USC has — whether it’s managed by staff or managed by students or residents or education facilities — will have a location you can compost,” Lewis said. “I’d probably say in the next year, every housing location that USC has will have the ability to compost.”