While a compost pile filled with bugs and decomposing waste may repel most students, to UTA composter John Darling, these piles hold tremendous benefits for the planet and society.
“Compost is pretty much magic,” Darling said.
Darling runs the UTA compost site, where groundskeepers distribute the site’s final compost product across campus and use it as a soil amendment that provides essential nutrients to plants.
The compost site has also begun supplying the UTA Community Garden with compost, free-of-charge.
“The gardeners are using it like crazy,” Darling said.
Darling visits food vendors on campus daily to collect kitchen waste to add to the compost site, which is tucked away behind the Environmental Health and Safety Office on Summit Avenue. He stops by the Connection Cafe to collect compostable kitchen waste such as banana peels. The Starbucks at the University Center and the Central Library coffee bar provide coffee grounds to add to the compost. Collecting this waste has sustainable benefits for campus, which is the goal of the compost site, Darling said.
“The point is to help UTA be more sustainable by using its waste,” Darling said. “We’re doing our original mission.”
Compost has various benefits for soil and gardeners, according to Darling. Nutrients in compost aid plant growth, Darling said.
Sustainability director Meghna Tare said the compost site also benefits UTA financially. UTA uses the compost for various landscaping projects on campus, saving costs by decreasing the need for fertilizers or pesticides.
The behind-the-scene staffers at these on-campus locations who prepare the food help Darling the most in collecting necessary waste for the compost site.
“It’s the people that you never see that are the most valuable to me,” Darling said.
Off-campus locations, the Starbucks off of Cooper Street and nearby restaurant Tin Cup, also transfer their kitchen waste to the compost site. However, UTA campus provides more than 90 percent of the waste.
UTA groundskeepers are also crucial to the compost site. UTA groundskeepers collect leaves to add to the compost pile and distribute the final compost product across campus.
In a bigger context, composting diverts waste away from landfills, prolonging the life of landfills and delaying the expense of starting new landfills, Darling said. Some landfills also seep out methane; therefore, the less material placed in landfills, the better it is for global warming, Darling said.
Darling said he has noticed very few UTA students have any interest in the compost pile. He said he believes age and location components are at play.
“It’s something college students are not thinking about, especially in our part of the country,” Darling said.
Darling said even he neither enjoyed gardening much in college nor prioritized it.
“I was busy trying to get through algebra and biology, but your priorities change as you go through different stages,” Darling said.
Darling said in the future, he aims for the compost site to accelerate its rate of production of compost.
“I don’t know if that’s a goal, but more of a wild hope,” Darling said.