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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities
Campus Arborist/Landscape Services Coordinator Paul Swartz pours coffee grounds into a composter. The compost will be used to fertilize flower beds on campus.

Campus Arborist/Landscape Services Coordinator Paul Swartz pours coffee grounds into a composter. The compost will be used to fertilize flower beds on campus.

Green practices: Landscape Services composter

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April 30, 2012 

The mini-basket program implemented at the Physical Plant* got Campus Arborist/Landscape Services Coordinator Paul Swartz thinking. He noticed that most items being thrown in the baskets were food waste or materials that could be reused in another way. When Swartz suggested that Landscape Services purchase a composter, Gerry Dobbs, Landscape Services manager, eagerly agreed.

Composters enable certain non-recyclable waste to decompose into nutrient-rich fertilizer. The large plastic container has a door on top to insert materials. It is suspended on an axel so employees can aerate the compost simply by rotating the container. Rotation occurs once or twice a week, but the need could be more or less depending on the volume of the contents.

Nearly all waste that cannot be recycled can be composted. The list of acceptable materials includes yard waste like dry leaves, woody material and grass; food scraps such as egg shells, fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds; and paper products like newspaper, paper towel and tissues. Meat is the one notable exception that will not break down well.

The composter behind the Landscape Services building serves two lunchrooms. “Our employees have been really good about adding material to it,” Swartz said. The department has been using the composter for approximately eight months.

To have the most ideal conditions for decomposition, the mix should be approximately 80-percent dry or “brown” material and 20-percent wet or “green” material.  Small amounts of water should be added to the mix periodically to keep it damp.

Swartz said that the breakdown process takes about one to two months, depending on the appropriateness of the blend and the environmental conditions. “In summer, the breakdown is quick because of the warmer temperatures,” he explained. ”We were surprised at how quickly it composted.”

When the compost is ready to be used, it should look like rich, brown humus and no longer look like garbage. If portions of the mix are ready to be used but others are not, the composted parts can be shoveled out and the rest left to break down further.

Swartz said that other campus units should consider using composters as well. If there is enough outside space to host the device and enough users to produce a significant amount of waste, it is a realistic possibility.

“I think the main thing is that it gets material out of the waste stream. It’s a demonstration to make people aware of what can be done with composting,” Swartz said.

Green Issue 2012

*Prior to the creation of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities in January 2013, several IPF departments were a part of the now-dissolved MSU Physical Plant. Some historical articles on this website reference that former unit.