UNH's Compost Program

Contacts: UNH College of Life Sciences & Agriculture (COLSA) and UNH Dining

Please note that compost sales have been discontinued

Read the 2006 BioCycle Magazine cover story on the UNH compost program for more details. 


UNH compost programHow it works

The UNH Composting Facility is a collaborative effort among several UNH partners. It was initiated in the early 2000's as a partnership of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, Sustainability Academy, NH Agricultural Experiment Station and UNH Dining as part of UNH's Food & Society Inititiave and Local Harvest Inititiative. It has undergone upgrades and expansion to provide an efficient operation supporting the effective management and utilization of nutrients and enhancement of soil health. It provides opportunities for teaching, research and outreach on sustainable reuse of farm and food wastes, and is thereby consistent with UNH's regional and national leadership in sustainable agriculture and food systems..

The resulting compost is used as a soil amendment to maintain fertility and tilth of the NHAES/COLSA/UNH forage fields, the strong majority of which are certified organic and therefore rely on manure and compost applications. Ingredients for the composting operation include NHAES/COLSA dairy and equine bedding and manure, food and bakery waste from UNH Dining Services, and leaves and grass clippings from UNH Grounds and Roads operations. Importantly, our composted materials make use of pulped pre- and post-consumer food wastes from the UNH dining halls, an innovative and sustainable practice that productively diverts in excess of 25,000 pounds per month of material which would otherwise go directly into the Durham waste stream. Funding and labor for the operation comes from NHAES/College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and UNH Dining, with several additional campus partners including the UNH Sustainability Academy, Provost Office, Parent's Association and President's Office. 

Background: Closing the Food Cycle in the UNH Community

During the academic year, UNH dining halls serve almost 70,000 meals per week. UHS takes pride in providing contemporary food service by offering diners a wide selection of choices and flavors. Food disposed of at the end of a meal (post-consumer waste) coupled with organic waste generated in the preparation of meals (pre-consumer) leads to a tremendous amount of food waste. A 1999 UNH food waste study conducted by dietetic interns in the UNH Department of Nutrition indicated that a total of four ounces of food waste is generated per meal served. This includes pre- and post-consumer waste and results in ~9750 pounds (over 4 tons) of food waste per week. Combined, we collect between 25,000 - 40,000 lbs. of food waste at all our campus dining outlets per month.

To deal with this amount of food and organic waste in a sustainable manner, during the academic year this waste and other organic materials are gathered from sites on and near the campus. All UNH dining - Holloway Commons, Stillings, Philbrook, Huddleston, and the MUB- have installed food pulpers to pulverize food waste into very small pieces and to extract liquid. The result is a dry paste-like material that composts quickly due to increased surface area, thereby increasing the speed with which the food waste decomposes eliminates the problem of odor.

Since summer 2006, UNH Dining staff have been collecting food and organic waste from all UNH dining areas. (Prior to Summer 2006, Sustainability Academy compost interns set out early in the morning to collect this waste.) The dining staff load buckets of waste onto their compost truck and take them out to Kingman Farm. Kingman Farm is the University's 350-acre agronomy research facility and home to eight large compost windrows, each measuring 200 yards in length. Windrows are long compost piles composed of manure, sawdust, plant materials, and organic waste collected at UNH. Windrows that are lighter and coarser are newer and have not yet broken down into dark, crumbly, and more uniform compost. A tractor is used to dig a hole in the windrow into which the waste is poured and then covered. Once the waste is poured out and covered, the waste buckets are washed and returned to their original sites. In prior years, UNH Sustainabilit Academy compost interns were also responsible for assisting with campus outreach about the food cycle, composting, and the importance of food waste reduction.

Facts about the UNH Compost Program

  • Food waste is picked up at all UNH Dining Halls (Stillings, Philbrook, Holloway), the UNH Memorial Union Building (MUB), and the UNH Research Greenhouses.
  • Approximately 25,000 - 40,000 pounds of food waste are collected per month during the academic year. Approximately 200,000 pounds per year are composted.
  • Since summer 2006, UNH Dining staff have been collecting food waste and bringing it to Kingman Farm. Prior to summer 2006, Sustainability Institute compost interns collected the food waste. Five interns were hired during the academic year, and two were hired during the summer.

Information about Composting

  • Compost is a beneficial soil amendment that can improve soil texture and water-holding capacity, as well as increase nutrient levels in gardens, farms, landscape projects, and development.
  • Compost is created when microbial activity is present in a concentrated area of organic material. The microbes "eat" the organic material. The byproduct of this "eating" is a nutrient rich humus called compost.
  • Composting provides a way to reduce the amount of waste added to landfills and converts organic waste into a valuable soil amendment. By improving overall soil health, compost reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizers. On a larger scale, compost has been used in reforestation projects, as a topsoil replacement in areas damaged by erosion, and to remediate contaminated soil.
  • You can compost year-round. Although microbial activity slows down in the winter, it quickly recovers when the temperature warms, causing windrows to reach temperatures upwards of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Useful Links

Get involved! Remember to take what you want, but eat what you take to reduce your food waste. (You can always go back for seconds!). And encourage your local grocery store, restaurants, schools, offices, and other institutions to compost.