CU Denver Wellness Center

Supporting Environmental Health through Composting at CU Denver’s Student Wellness Center

March 28, 2022

Recognized with a LEED Gold award (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in 2019 for its environmentally conscious design, the CU Denver Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center promotes “environmental wellness” as part of its commitment to a holistic 7 Dimensions of Wellness. It continues to serve as a campus model for ecofriendly practices through its ongoing composting efforts.

“The Student Wellness Center is a gathering place for students,” says Scott Sharp, assistant director of facilities & operations, Wellness & Recreation Services. “We have several lounge spaces where students and members of our community can eat. Being such a large, centrally located space, it makes sense for the university to provide composting opportunities and continue to find ways to implement composting throughout our operations.”

A Leader in Campus Composting

The Student Wellness Center has been composting since it opened in July 2018 through a built-in kitchen composting unit in the public eating space. “Since then, we’ve added additional cans for compost during larger special events hosted at the wellness center and continue to find ways to support the initiative,” Sharp says. “We have composting receptacles located in our areas where food is consumed that are emptied multiple times a week and delivered to a larger container monitored by AHEC (Auraria Higher Education Center) sustainability.”

Composting accelerates the process of food decomposition and waste and recycles it into nutrient-dense soil that can be used for gardening and agriculture. It prevents these materials from going to landfills, where they release the greenhouse gas methane, a primary contributor to ozone and climate change. Compostable items include fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, nut shells, cardboard, and paper. “Composting is good for the environment, conserves water, and helps reduce waste,” Sharp says. “I’m excited to contribute to the university’s efforts to make composting accessible. The benefits are worth the effort for all students, faculty, and staff.”

Campuswide Composting Expansion Continues

Roughly five years ago, the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program kicked off a multi-phase waste diversion effort and composting initiative on campus. Compost collected on the Auraria Campus is decomposed at a large industrial-scale site and sold to local farmers and stores. Beginning in August 2021, phase one included placing composting waste bins in high-traffic areas in many campus buildings to make the waste alternative widely accessible within our community. “All the tri-stream bins have been placed and are being fully serviced in our high-priority spaces across campus,” says Rylee McCone, waste diversion specialist for ASCP. High priority spaces include high-traffic; high-waste areas primarily used by students.

“With phase two we are looking to finish out remaining student and event spaces and target areas that are near common dining spaces,” McCone says. “As we progress with this program, we are also increasing our education initiatives for students, staff, and faculty to ensure they understand which of the three streams (composting, recycling, or landfill) their waste can go in.”

McCone notes that the overall campus diversion rate averaged 18% in 2021, but exceeded 20% for nine months of the last year. “So far in 2022, the campus has boasted an average of a 25.3% diversion rate,” she says. “These numbers are promising as we aim for our goal to achieve a diversion rate of 35% by 2024.”