Making Fun of Trash

Abby Ihrke '19 in the Geisert-Williams dining hall. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
October 15, 2018

In an average week, one of Bradley’s dining halls sends 900 pounds of wasted food to the landfill. Not only is that wasted space, it’s an economic loss of $35,000, or $1.70 per pound, each semester.

Finance and Spanish double major Abby Ihrke ’19 discovered the impact of discarded burgers and barely-touched napkins while researching an English paper and wanted to make a change. Knowing composting’s economic and environmental value, she started an effort to trim waste from the Geisert-Williams Hall cafeteria.

“Trash is fun,” said the volleyball player from Phoenix. “Trash is never trash because it can be used for something else. It’s fun seeing things become something you’ll utilize again. It’s like Goodwill stores giving items new lives.”

The project began last semester with a couple five-gallon buckets by the cafeteria’s tray return. On several occasions, Ihrke sat beside her collection site during dining hours and asked for leftover food. Students and other diners filled a handful of buckets with easily decomposable items like napkins, fruits and vegetables.

Afterward, she took the items a few blocks off campus to Peoria’s Renaissance Park Community Garden where they will take about a year to become soil. It could take food 30 years to decompose in landfills.

Renaissance Park came with a couple drawbacks, as it only accepts a few easily biodegradable items, and only during warmer months. Those limits sparked Ihrke’s long-term hope the campus would reinstate an expanded service like the one Bradley used until 2014. Her dream became reality when a local company started pickups in mid-October.

“It’s a little crazy to think this all started with a small composting program,” Ihrke said. “If there is anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that you just have to give things a shot. If you’re lucky, taking a chance can turn into something pretty awesome.”

As the new program starts, Ihrke hopes to continue educating classmates about environmental impact. Each person who thinks twice about tossing food in the garbage is another person making a difference.

“It’s the little things that count when you care about the environment,” she said. “It’s those weird things like changing your mind about that banana peel or piece of paper you were going to throw away.”



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