California: California State University Of Monterey Bay (CSUMB) Composting Pilot

Monterey Bay, CA

The campus food-service program of the California State University of Monterey Bay has adopted biobased and biodegradable plastics and is supporting a pilot on-site vermicomposting system. These activities are an expansion of the University's environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices, which include a campus recycling program that accepts paper, plastic bottles, aluminum and steel cans and corrugated cardboard. The food-service program, which is operated by The Sodexho, Inc., includes a cafeteria, a full-service restaurant and food court, and serves 5,000 students, plus staff and faculty.

The food-service program uses spudware utensils (80% potato starch and 20% soy) and a combination of paper, bagasse (Sugar resin pulp) and PLA (Ceraplast corn bi-products) in all locations for plates, bowls, containers, cups, and straws. After use, students, staff, and faculty place these materials in special bins for compostable items. The CSUMB staff collects and delivers the compostable products and organic materials to an on-site vermicost bin in the loading dock of the DC Market Place.

Products and Brands Composted: 
  • Spudware: To-go utensils made from potato starch and soybean oil.
Collection System: 

Bins are placed in the kitchen for bagasse, Spudware, pre-consumer fruit and vegetable trimmings and food wastes, coffee grounds, shredded office paper and paper napkins, towels and to-go paper. Eventually bins will also be placed in the cafeteria for post-consumer food scraps and compostable plastic products. Students, staff and faculty are educated on the new cafeteriaware and the composting system via the campus web site and the activities of the university’s sustainability committee. When the program scales up, they plan to increase educational efforts to facilitate participation.

Compost Process: 

CSUMB staff collect and bring the organic materials and compostable products to an on-site vermicomposting bin. The compostable products are shredded before they are added to the bins. The worms take longer to break down the bagasse compared to food and paper wastes. The worms are not able to digest Spudware but it decomposes on its own. The bins are donated by a local apple vendor once they are no longer serviceable for commercial apple washing. Once the initial population of worms has been acquired, more worms do not need to be added to maintain decomposition because they reproduce. They plan to use the compost on campus landscaping.

Detention times:

Paper: 8-10 days
Bagasse: 45 days
Spudware: 6 months

Size of Operation: 

When school is in session 22 to 30 lbs of compost are diverted per week. They are working to institute a community-composting program, which in addition to the campus food-program may include the Monterey Bay Aquarium and local grocery stores. Compost from this program would be sold back to local farmers.

Dollars and Sense: 
  • Bioplastics cost 3% to 7% more than traditional packaging products, but CSUMB has found ways to adopt them without an overall increase in consumer prices (see under tips for replication).
  • Worm castings would sell at $15 to $16 per pound.
  • CSUMB expects to sell excess worms to students for home worm bins.
  • Outdoor vermicomposting requires weather that does not get too hot, too dry or below freezing.
  • Biobased compostable products are more expensive than traditional products.
Tips for Replication: 
  • Work with vendors to meet specific needs: When cafeteria staff was not satisfied with the items, they sent the product salespeople hunting for more suitable items.
  • To determine which biobased items work best for a given use, some experimentation is needed (packaging choices must be matched with food temperatures, for example).
  • Prices must be negotiated, because supplies are too limited and too dissimilar to allow purchases by bidding.
  • It is possible to adopt biobased compostable products without an overall increase in cost to the food-service program: by shifting to fewer sizes of cups and plates, purchase volumes of each size increases thus bringing down the costs. Managing fewer purchases also reduce administrative costs.

Dan Kaupie
CA State Monterrey
100 Campus Center, Bldg #16
Seaside, CA 93955