UK student inspired to create compostable paper recycling program

Inspired by ideas from a Symposium on Energy, University of Kentucky student and UK Recycling’s programmatic support intern, Shaun Lavin, started a pilot composting program for brown paper towels on campus.

The following is authored by Lavin about his experience.

Wash your hands, grab a paper towel, dry your hands, toss the paper towel and go on with your day.

No big deal, right?

The University of Kentucky’s 2018 Waste Audit found about 1,500 tons of brown paper towels (compostable paper) are sent to the landfill alone each year — this equals 15% of all of UK’s landfill waste. 

My interest in composting grew after attending the Symposium on Energy in the 21st Century at Syracuse University with the UK Energy Club in 2022. Syracuse University had composting containers beside every recycling and landfill container in the buildings we visited. This included the containers in the bathrooms which had signs indicating which containers were specifically meant to collect brown paper towels. 

Seeing how easily the same idea could be implemented at UK, I developed and piloted a new campus waste reduction initiative, focusing on reducing the amount of compostable paper going to the landfill, which would help UK Recycling reach their waste reduction goals.

Currently the program is piloting in the Taylor Education Building, Dickey Hall and the Peterson Service Building. So far we have collected and diverted 145 pounds of brown paper towels in January 2023, the first month of operation.

After the paper towels are collected, they are taken to UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s (CAFE) C. Oran Little Research Center in Woodford County, where they are combined with other organic waste from the farm and campus and turned into compost. Some of this compost is then brought back to campus and used by UK Grounds as soil amendment.

Chelsea Colley

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