ShareThis Page

Penn State New Kensington to work compost into soil, education

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, 1:06 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Kevin Snider, Penn State New Kensington chancellor, talks about the new composting program at the campus in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
William Hamilton, a biology assistant professor, speaks about the educational opportunities for students at the new site of a compost area at Penn State New Kensington in Upper Burrell on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014.

Penn State New Kensington officials insist that what looked like a lowly bag of garbage left in a field is, in fact, the start of an educational and green revolution at the Upper Burrell campus.

While only a small pile, school officials christened its compose site on Wednesday morning amid much fanfare for the sustainable project.

PSNK wants to convert hundreds of pounds of food scraps that would normally be hauled to a landfill into “black gold” — nutrient-rich compost that will improve campus soils for gardens and other projects.

Officials, including Chancellor Kevin Snider, christened the site by tossing food scraps, half-eaten apples, onto a patch of grass in a field area behind the campus buildings.

“It's an exciting day for us,” he said.

Hannah Hohman, 19, of Allegheny Township, who is president of the school's Student Government Association, said, “What is happening here is that rather than just telling a student to recycle or compost, they are being told why.”

Campus food services at its student cafeteria, known as Café 780, will send food scraps left over from when fresh food is prepared as well as coffee to the compost heap.

About 700 PSNK students who frequent the Café will be encouraged to add to the compost coffers with some of their food scraps.

Students will learn about composting while at the cafeteria and in certain classes. The school's biology and other departments expect to study the compost pile, monitoring the decay of the food scraps into an organic soil additive.

The PSNK Science Club and the Green Team, made up of faculty, staff and students, has been working to start the compost program for the last three years.

The campus received an $11,300 grant from the Sustainability Institute at Penn State to get the program going.

It paid for:

• New food disposal bins in Café 780 for students to segregate recyclables, food meant for compost and garbage not for compost.

• New counters and bins for the kitchen staff to pitch food scraps for the compost pile.

• Educational efforts and materials to inform students about composting.

For the first two weeks of school, Green Team members will man the cafeteria to impart the finer details of composting food to students. The students also will study the composting process in class.

“We're trying to be a living laboratory,” said Ruthann Herstek, one of the Green Team leaders, who works for the school's academic affairs department.

The school will offer a composting workshop, and students will work with faculty on proposing some research projects.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.