Baylor University teams up with compost company to divert food waste from Waco’s landfill

Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 7:47 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Baylor University is teaming up with Texas-based compost company, Moonshot Compost, to help divert food waste from piling into Waco’s almost-packed landfill, transforming the waste into compost, a nutrient-rich type of soil.

“We’re able to really collect and redistribute compost in a way that really was new to us,” Smith Getterman, who is the Director of Sustainability and Special Projects at Baylor, said.

Moonshot Compost said about 22% of waste at landfills is food waste, so the two founders wanted to find a way to decrease the waste in landfills by starting this compost company.

“The tallest point in the city of Houston is the Atascocita Landfill,” Chris Wood, who is one of the founders of Moonshot, said. “Landfills are different than we think they are. They’re just big piles of trash. That trash gets covered up, and when food waste goes to a landfill and gets covered up, it produces methane. That’s another source of greenhouse gases that are damaging, so these are problems we’re solving.”

Moonshot Compost drops off bins to its subscribers, like Baylor. The company will then pick up the bins filled with food and take them to compost facilities, where the waste is combined with other factors and ingredients to create compost.

“What compost is, it looks like dirt,” Wood said. “If you’ve got good compost in your hand and you smell it, it’s just real earthy, but that dirt is really just holding in it a bunch of organisms that are really great for the soil.”

Getterman said Baylor has been trying to find affordable ways to compost its food waste for about a decade or more. Kevin Merritt, who is the food service director for Baylor Dining, said, one of their goals is to reduce the amount of food they are sending to landfills.

“The actual process of composting has gotten cheaper to produce compost over the years,” Merritt said. “When we first started this, initial estimates were substantially less than what they were several years ago, so we decided now would be a good time to try.”

Baylor subscribed to Moonshot for its Penland Dining Hall in April.

“We have more people coming through Penland Dining Hall than any other on campus,” Getterman said. “It really just seemed like a no-brainer to start here because it would really give us the best idea of how this would work.”

Students can place their plates on a revolving dishwasher that is sent to the back. Employees then discard food into a processor where it is converted into small pieces of food, then dumped into the bin.

“Every meal period, they come in, they eat, they take their dirty dishes, they put it on a tray, return, and then actually everything happens in the back of the house,” Merritt said. “It doesn’t affect how the students typical lunch goes.”

Moonshot picks up the bin and takes it to a compost facility in Austin where they combine the food waste with yard waste and other components, and, after three months to a year, the waste becomes a type of nutrient-rich soil that can be used to grow crops, produce, in gardens or on front lawns.

“Compost is really like a transportation vehicle for all these good bugs that help to make soil healthier,” Wood said.

Moonshot collects data on how much food waste is diverted from landfills and sent to compost facilities. Since April, data on Moonshot’s online dashboard says Penland Dining Hall has diverted more than 28,000 pounds of food from going to Waco’s landfill, which is nearly the same weight as a motorhome or RV.

“Just a couple of months later, we’ve already composted a little over 12 tons,” Getterman said. “So, the answer is yes, it does work.”

Because of these results, Baylor is expanding its subscription with Moonshot Compost to include two more dining halls on campus.

“Expanding it across campus to be able to divert even more from the landfill is a good thing not only for Baylor, but for McLennan County and the state,” Merritt said.

Waco’s landfill has been a concern for the city as it is predicted to reach capacity in July 2025. The city of Waco has had plans in the works to build a new landfill in Axtell, which is about 15 miles northeast of Waco.

Kody Petillo, who is the Director of Solid Waste for the City of Waco, said the city plans to start construction on the new landfill in the Fall of 2023 with the goal of it being finished and start taking waste in February 2025.

The city council will be voting on a resolution Tuesday night to approve the next phase of design and inspections for the property.

Right now, Wood said Baylor is Moonshot’s only subscriber in the Central Texas area, but he hopes other businesses and institutions will join the efforts to choose a sustainable way to discard waste. However, he hopes there will be a compost facility in the area in the future.

“We’ll bring it to Austin, make sure it’s creating nutrient dense compost, and then hopefully we can find someone near to Waco to start taking this food waste and making compost there,” Wood said.

He said businesses and institutions who are interested in purchasing a subscription to Moonshot Compost can contact them here.

As for Baylor, they plan to continue to find new ways to be a more sustainable campus.