Purchase College Exemplifies Sustainability on Campus with New Rocket Composter

Purchase College-SUNY launches into the new year with an on-campus large-scale food waste composting system, known as the Rocket composter. The initiative reflects the college's commitment to environmental sustainability, as well as its strong tradition of engaging students in community and social activism.

On Feb. 5, 2014, students and faculty will gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will include eating apples and throwing the cores in the Rocket to kick off the composting. Thereafter, the Rocket will be composting food waste from the food court and coffee grounds from the Starbucks on campus. Composting from additional dining facilities will be incorporated into the program as it progresses.

"The composting program builds on the sustainability efforts already underway on the Purchase College campus, while it provides students with hands-on learning about environmental stewardship and innovation skills," says Matthew Immergut, an assistant professor of sociology who initiated the project with Brooke Singer, an associate professor of new media.

Immergut has been on Purchase's Sustainability Committee for seven years and teaches a course in environmental sociology, which examines the intersection between human society and the larger non-human ecosystem. He plans to incorporate learning about the composter into the class, explaining that, "Recently sociology has become more concerned with ecological issues and environmental activism." He adds, "Purchase College as an educational institution is open to change and the students are eager to find solutions to collective issues."

According to Brooke Singer, who previously led a composting program in Brooklyn, "There exists a strong initiative for sustainability on the Purchase College campus—with energy and commitment on behalf of the students." To encourage educational engagement, Singer plans to have students in her Information Aesthetics class take raw data from the composter and make it visual. "By building a graphic interface, students can visualize the live data stream from the composter to show how much food is being processed," she explains.

The Rocket composter transforms organic material into useable compost in two weeks, is self-contained, and requires only minimal electrical power and woodchips for operation. Costing as little as 12 cents a day to run, it has the capacity to handle 460 gallons of food waste per week. The machine was paid for through Purchase College's Green Fee, a small fee that students pay to support sustainability on campus.

Anna Palmer, a Purchase College junior who is majoring in environmental studies, will serve as the first "Compost Master." Five days a week she will go to the food court (known as The Hub) and Starbucks to pick up food waste and transport it to the composter via cargo bike.

Palmer notes, "As a vegetarian and an environmental activist, I am interested in the food system and growing organic food without pesticides. This project helps us to learn how to grow—and ultimately live—more sustainably."

About Purchase College–SUNY

Purchase College, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) network of 64 universities and colleges, was founded in 1967 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. His aspirations for Purchase were to combine on one campus conservatory training in the visual and performing arts with programs in the liberal arts and sciences. Today, Purchase College–SUNY is a community of students, faculty, and friends where open-minded engagement with the creative process leads to a lifetime of intellectual growth and professional opportunity. For more information about the College, visit www.purchase.edu