Having composting available in her dorm made Kanika Taneja realize the importance of sorting her waste correctly.

"I'd rather have something go into composting than a landfill," said Taneja, a freshman computer science major.

Last fall, the Department of Resident Life and the Department of Residential Facilities introduced a pilot composting program to dorms. A recent survey conducted by Resident Life indicated students are more knowledgeable on how to compost, as well as keeping the compost free of contamination.

The survey focused on three main parts: knowledge of how to compost correctly, self-reported behavior and perceptions of composting. But its overall purpose was to track knowledge on composting and to understand how to implement this program into more dorms in the future, said Joann Prosser, Resident Life director of research and assessment.

"As you roll something out you want to know that it's working," Prosser said. "What can we tweak to do better? How can we invite [students] to engage in these behaviors? Because [composting] is important."

An assessment on composting efforts on the campus was conducted last spring and the results were compared to the survey this year. Although the numbers showed improvement, Prosser said that since there was no composting in dorms last spring, the two surveys cannot be precisely compared.

"You're not comparing apples to apples; you're comparing apples to oranges," Prosser said. "It's not an exact match, it's not perfect, but what we did want to see was that there'd be an increase, which we saw, which was good."

One important point students should know about composting is to ensure it's free of any contamination, including items that should be recycled or thrown away, said Cindy Felice, Residential Facilities associate director. This is especially vital to composting efforts because vendors will not accept the university's compost if the problem is persistent, she said.

"It is very important for the campus to have very little contamination in the composting strain," Felice said. "We haven't had any contamination issues, and students seem to be pretty invested in it."

This survey will help identify a couple other locations for more pilot compost locations next fall, in addition to the current bins in Easton and Chestertown halls, Felice said.

The survey also indicated an increase in the percentage of students' awareness about compostable items such as used paper towels, as well as items that are designated for trash, such as foam cups, Prosser said.  The survey also showed students approved of the composting locations and the information signs, which give composting instructions, she added.

Student Waste Disposal Knowledge Across Two Surveys (2015-2016)

"If you provide the opportunity and you do the appropriate amount of education, can you change behavior?" Prosser asked. "It appears, at least on some levels, that we can."

Although the results of the survey were positive, Felice said, not every part of the campus will have a "high level of composting" because some dorms do not have the required space, and some students will not be interested.

However, having composting available in more places provides opportunities for the campus as a whole to engage in more sustainable practices, Prosser said.

"This is a composting pilot, but in reality when you talk about composting you're talking about sustainability," Prosser said. "There's this bleed-over effect of a much more nuanced understanding of our waste stream."