To meet one of the goals in UBC’s Strategic Plan, the Robson Square Sustainability Committee wanted to begin composting food waste. They first talked to an outside waste management company, but the costs were prohibitive.

“Because UBC Waste Management doesn’t operate downtown, implementing recycling and composting required us to come up with some creative solutions,” explains Andrea Jerome, the Front Desk Coordinator at Robson Square and one of the motors behind the new project.

Step in Melanie Steele, Sales and Events Coordinator for Peake of Catering, which provides meals for many events at Robson Square. Peake is known for its commitment to sustainability and has an ongoing relationship with a large-scale compost service provider, Smithrite. Support from the UBC Robson Square Leadership Council led to a new partnership with Peake that was launched in September 2010.

The program started by focusing solely on the catering aspect of Robson Square’s meeting and conference operations. When this proved successful, it was extended to all campus staff and Continuing Studies students on October 25.

All organic waste from two of the three Robson Square lunchrooms and any catered events is now composted, “including coffee grinds and filters, all leftover food, even paper napkins; essentially everything except metal, plastic and lined coffee cups,” explains Steele. “On average we divert 325 litres of organic waste from the landfill every week now.”
“So far the program is a great success and really easy to do. We were already in the habit of separating recyclable materials like pop cans from catered events, now we just separate a few more items. It is amazing to see how little waste actually ends up going in the garbage when you are recycling and composting.”

The Peake of Catering drivers pick up the food waste every day and bring it to the company’s main kitchen facility. From there, the company’s service provider collects it all weekly. In the end, the compost produced from food waste replaces commercial fertilizers; it is used in gardens to grow food or flowers and to replenish depleted topsoil.
Volunteer staff at Robson Square empty the pails in the lunchrooms on a rotating basis. “They are all really excited about the program and are happy that they are able to positively contribute to sustainable practices at the workplace,” says Steele.

“Although some people recycle at home, I’ve discovered that only a small number compost,” says Kat Eagleson of the Sauder Business Family Centre, who sits on the Robson Square Sustainability Committee. “When our pail was first put out I received a lot of questions about how smelly or disgusting it would get, and not a lot of interest in participating in the disposal of its contents. Over the next couple of days I was able to prove how easy and minimal the maintenance was, and show that the odour was sometimes even pleasant, thanks to many tea drinkers.

“Since then volunteers have increased and I have received questions about residential composting.”
The program aims to serve as a model to educate and promote composting as a sustainable behaviour. This will enable UBC Robson Square to build a foundation of practices and principles that align with UBC’s sustainability initiative and serve as an agent for change.