Composting’s Impact on a College Level

One of the most important questions raised by the food system is what to do with excess food. Food rescue is an emerging option; however, Furman University prefers to offset its environmental impact by composting its excess food.

Furman composts all of its pre-consumer and post-consumer waste from the Dining Hall at an organic garden on campus called the “Furman Farm“. The Farm receives food scraps that never make it onto the Dining Hall floor as well as leftover scraps from students’ plates after they have finished eating.

In this process, food that is normally left to rot in a landfill is given a “second chance” as nourishment for soil that is used to grow food.


Why does Furman compost?


Furman generates approximately 25 – 27 tons of compost annually.  The university composts on such a wide scale for multiple reasons. First and foremost, the compost is used to grow organic food at the Furman Farm where student workers and volunteers learn about organic gardening. The student position of Compost Fellow rotates every year so that interested students can get exposure to compost science.

Although the quarter-acre garden is not large enough to supply the Dining Hall with food, it provides an excellent teaching model for sustainable gardening practices. An active composting program is an integral part of that model.

Tim Sharp, a sophomore Art major harvests Red Romaine lettuce as part of his job at the Furman Farm

Tim Sharp, a sophomore Sustainability major, harvests Red Romaine lettuce as part of his job at the Furman Farm.

Secondly, as part of the President’s Climate Commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Furman uses its composting program as one of its carbon offsets. Furman University measures up fairly well in its environmental ratings. The fact that all pre- and post- consumer food waste from the Dining Hall goes into bettering Furman’s environment – as opposed to stinking up a landfill – is one of the reasons that rating is high.


Why is compost good for the planet?

(And what role do universities play?)


Compost is the easiest way to offset food that would otherwise rot in a landfill and push it towards a constructive end. When unused food is composted it is not wasted. It gets to contribute to a new cycle of growth. Compost returns much needed nutrients to soil that is becoming increasingly depleted from modern agriculture practices.


College campuses allow a space for composting to reach almost industrial levels. Although, there are many examples of composting systems or startups that have gained popularity in US cities, there are few examples of colleges or universities leading the charge in composting. With such widespread environmental engagement – whether from powerful chartered groups or from grassroots initiatives – it only makes sense that composting should be more prevalent on higher ed campuses.



Rescuing Food from the System

“Hunger is not a disease you can cure. It’s something that’s going to happen every single day. You’re going to wake up and you’re going to be hungry. And so is everyone else, regardless of whether they have the money to feed themselves.” -Tessa May, Development Coordinator for Loaves & Fishes

In Greenville County alone over 62,000 people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 

It’s a startling number, especially considering that Greenville, South Carolina has been named by Forbes and CNN as one of the best cities in the United States for economic opportunity and prosperity.

As unlikely as it may seem, food insecurity is a common occurrence everywhere in the United States. According to Feeding America, approximately 1 in 4 children in the US go without at least one meal on a daily basis.

To compound the situation, it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is thrown away each year. This is food that is perfectly good and could go on the plates of those who need it the most.


What can be done to curb hunger?

Loaves & Fishes, a local organization that works with a network of food pantries and soup kitchens, believes food rescue is a good place to start. 

Loaves & Fishes is a small organization that packs a big punch. There are only five full-time employees and two refrigerated trucks, however, in 2013 Loaves & Fishes rescued over 1.4 million pounds of food in Greenville County. After distributing to partner agencies, this food went on 250,000 people’s plates.



The organization receives donated food from grocery stores, restaurants, farmers and catered luncheons then drives the food to one of its 94 partner agencies. The donations are of food that was on the track to the landfill for an early demise.

You’re probably wondering just how beneficial food that was headed to the dumpster could be to people in need. Rest assured, the donated food is not of lower quality than what you can buy in the grocery store. Before a donation is accepted by Loaves & Fishes it is thoroughly examined by trained drivers and volunteers. As Tessa May explained: “If it’s not something that the drivers would feed their families, we don’t accept it.”

The donated food ends up on food pantries’ and soup kitchens’ shelves within 24 hours of the initial pick-up.


And all of this is done without any cost to the agencies feeding the hungry.


Loaves & Fishes is just one example of an organization attempting to change the food system for the better. By reducing waste through a network, we can not only help mitigate hunger and empty landfills. We can also shed a light on these issues that affect each and every one of us.



“Food insecurity is something we can address. That is something we can cure. Truthfully, we could end food insecurity with just the end of food waste.” -Tessa May


Information received from interview with Tessa May at Loaves & Fishes office.