Marshall working toward first commercial compost facility in West Virginia

Marshall University is taking greater steps to "go green" and make a positive impact on the Huntington community in the process.

The Marshall Sustainability Department is developing the first commercial compost facility in West Virginia, located at its University Heights location off Route 60 in Huntington.  It will be operated in conjunction with the Gro Marshall Recovery Fellowship, which is a program within the department through a partnership with the Karma Yoga Institute. The program provides job training and certification to those in recovery through various green-collar fields, such as composting and gardening.

Through the Gro Marshall recovery program, a social equity aspect of sustainability will be realized as well. Emotional intelligence training, financial and life skills training and job development for participants will be offered. Three service hours per week will also be provided in the compost facility and gardens. Upon completion of the program, Gro Marshall will send participants to be certified as master gardeners or as U.S. certified compost technologists. The goal of Gro Marshall is to offer real-life experience with certification to help participants find long-term employment, which has been shown to decrease the rate of relapse.

Marshall University President Dr. Jerome Gilbert, an avid home composter for many years, says he is proud of what the sustainability department is doing with the compost facility.

"This program is a wonderful way for Marshall to help the environment and give back to our community," Gilbert said. "I hope it has a positive impact on the university and our area for years to come."

The compost facility is made possible, in part, through the generous gift of Marshall friend and local business owner Tom Wolf. Wolf owns more than a dozen McDonalds franchises in the Tri-State area and has been instrumental in development of the project.

Marshall University Sustainability Manager Amy Parsons-White says the addition of the compost facility will enable Marshall to be one step closer to being waste free.

"The vast majority of our waste is either recyclable or compostable," said Parsons-White. "By adding the compost facility, the university will be 70% waste free."

Although the university has an active recycling program, roughly 300 tons of food waste, office paper and cardboard are sent to the landfill each year.

"Not everyone chooses to participate in the recycling program and a lot of organics go in the trash," said Parsons-White. "Decomposing organic materials produce methane, which is 70 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one ton of food waste will produce 65 kilograms of methane. By composting all organic material, methane production could be reduced by 21.2 tons per year.

"This will not only have an environmental impact, but a financial impact as well," said Parsons-White. "The compost program will save the university money in waste haul fees and on the expense of purchased soil and garden amendments that go into our landscaping and student gardens. Excess compost will be sold and will produce revenue needed to keep the facility running."

After the digester at the facility is operational, it will hold up to eight cubic yards of waste at a time and can be harvested daily. The compost will be finished in a 5’ x 40’ worm bin, which will hold 50,000 red wiggler worms. Compost produced by the worms will be harvested twice a week and will be the finished product that will be used on the Huntington campus and sold to the public.

The sustainability department is still working on securing funding for the last piece of equipment needed to make the facility fully functional. The timeline for completion is January 2020.

Sustainability is defined as meeting needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and has three main pillars: economic, environmental and social, which are informally referred to as people, planet and profits.