More students living on campus can now think twice about their environmental impact at home. And it’s thanks to a highly motivated team of faculty, staff, and O’Neill students at IUPUI’s Office of Sustainability who working in the present to make IUPUI more sustainable in the future.
They’re expanding the existing composting program from Riverwalk Apartments to the remaining residence halls of Ball Hall, North Hall, and University Tower. Students living in those buildings can sign up now to receive a free composting kit. The kit includes a small countertop container, waste bags, and information about composting.
The process is simple. Students collect organic waste—things like food scraps, plants, and even some forms of paper products—in the container, then place their compostable waste into a designated compost bin where it is picked up and composted off-site. From there, it returns to campus as compost soil that is reused in IUPUI’s Urban Gardens.
Aspen Grieshaber, an O’Neill Sustainability major, is one of them. As the Sustainable Waste Management Intern for IUPUI Sustainability, she worked on securing a grant that allowed for the expansion. When she took on the position, she also took over a program already under development from her predecessors-turned-alumni, Miranda Frausto and Amber Rose Greaney.
“Amber wrote up a proposal for the initial Riverwalk Composting Program,” Grieshaber explains. “She had this idea of paying an outside stakeholder to take our compost rather than composting the material on campus.”
Grieshaber says that part of the process is the biggest barrier for many universities. But the team’s decision to outsource it proved critical to the project’s implementation. Their collaborative approach helped develop a strong plan, seek out funding, and eventually led to the program’s expansion.
IUPUI’s Office of Sustainability has a reputation for doing great things. Behind most of those projects are O’Neill students just like Grieshaber, Frausto, and Greaney. They’re part of a team that’s become widely known as the Sustain Gang—and they’re a force to be reckoned with. Those students were the driving force behind refillable water bottle stations on campus, water-saving dual-flush features in restrooms, the IUPUI Urban Gardens, the recent push to replace some campus trees with native trees, a campus pollinator garden, and so many more.
Their composting pilot program launched in spring 2021 at Riverwalk Apartments. They used the following summer to finetune the program and its purpose.
“We wanted to empower students to understand a bit better what composting was, why we were doing it, and that their compost comes back here to help campus,” she says. “It was really important to us that students understood why they were composting so we could remove the idea of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”
She said they also wanted students to think more about how much they waste in practical ways like how much food they make or by versus how much they truly eat. She says having that thought process can help people reduce waste and save money.
As Grieshaber put their plan on paper, she knew other universities could learn from it as well. In summer 2021, the team presented the project at a national waste conference.
“We were hoping to write something that other universities could easily copy and paste,” she explains. “We wanted to share the information and the plan to make it easier for them to use on their campuses.”
That wasn’t the only national recognition the program received. Grieshaber submitted the project to the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Race to Zero Waste Case Study Competition—and it won the Food Waste Reduction Category.
The team has been able to leverage those successes—and the now-proven impact of their program—to secure grant funding from IDEM that has allowed them to expand the program and offer their kits to even more students on campus.
“For any student wanting to compost, I would say to just sign up,” Grieshaber says. “It’s very low risk.”
She adds if a student tries the program and decides it’s not for them, they can simply unenroll.
“A lot of people are really passionate about sustainability, but just don’t know how to make the future a bit more sustainable,” she explains. “Composting is a small way to make a big difference. You’re already throwing that food waste in the trash. Just put it in a different bin.”