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Wednesday, December 13

Editorial: UCLA’s composting is wasted opportunity for biofuel production


UCLA has sustained interest in reducing waste over the years, but it might have lost its interest in innovation.

While the 45 tons of food waste and biodegradable packaging its dining halls produce every month are all composted, UCLA has had trouble thinking outside the box.

UC Irvine, on the other hand, has turned its food waste problem into an investment in biofuels. Every week, sustainably fueled trucks transport food waste from the university’s dining halls and residential restaurants to a waste management plant to become bio-slurry – a low-carbon fuel capable of powering entire facilities.

While it may not be possible for UCLA to immediately adopt a similar program, it’s a worthy aspiration that could be within the university’s reach with more research and a bit of brokering.

And it’s certainly worth the effort. The practical applications of biofuels outweigh those of compost. As much as compost contributes to more productive crops, the overhead cannot be overlooked. Composting is simply not the most efficient form of waste management, taking at least three months to decompose and turn into usable fertilizer.

On the other hand, Waste Management, UC Irvine’s partner in its food waste management process, is able to generate the bio-slurry in a matter of days, depending on the composition of waste. On top of that, the fuel is immediately available to benefit customers. The biofuel produced at the Orange, California, facility UC Irvine uses, for example, helps power a sewage treatment plan.

In an email, Emma Sorrell, the sustainability manager of UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services, said that while a biofuel program would be beneficial, it would be tricky to find a space to build a food recycling plant in Westwood. Building a plant, especially one in such close proximity, is unnecessary. Plants exist throughout Southern California, the nearest in Manhattan Beach, California, a shorter journey from UCLA than the composting facility UCLA uses in Victorville, California.

In fact, it takes only marginally longer – less than half an hour more – to drive from UCLA to the facility UC Irvine uses than from UCLA to Victorville.

This is not to say that the current sustainability program of transporting collected food waste to a composting station isn’t an accomplishment. Rather, it is to say that UCLA can do more to live up to its expectations of sustainability, and fueling the production of biofuels does more than composting to achieve this.

At the end of the day, UCLA should strive to improve its sustainability efforts in its spirited drive to achieve zero waste by 2020. However, it should not be afraid to look to its sister campuses and get its hands dirty implementing newer, more effective environmental measures, such as the biofuel program.

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