The Paper Towel Composting Project, a program started last semester by the Zero Waste Wolves at NC State, is working to reduce the amount of paper towel waste in residence hall bathrooms by urging students to compost their paper waste.
Kyra Levau and Kaley Cross, both fourth-years studying environmental sciences and the president and vice president of Zero Waste Wolves, respectively, together created and organized the Paper Towel Composting Project. Levau and Cross said they decided to start the project after noticing the copious amounts of paper towel waste from the paper towel dispensers that were installed in residence halls.
“We went to housing, asking them why these were implemented and if they could be removed,” Levau said. “Students seemed to be using their hand towels just fine before; what was the problem? But I think for health code reasons, they had to implement the paper towel dispensers, so there was no going backwards. So we just thought, with this new issue, how do we move forward, and paper towel composting was the best and easiest solution we came up with.”
According to Cross, paper towel dispensers were installed in 2017 in all of the residence halls to replace student-provided hand towels. This was due to cleanliness being questioned in the residence halls after a widespread illness on campus a few years beforehand.
“I do know that they were installed because of a health purpose,” Cross said. “They wanted students to have a way of washing their hands very sanitarily from start to finish. There was some kind of illness that went around the dorms a year or two before that and kind of raised these concerns.”
Lani St. Hill, outreach coordinator for Waste Reduction and Recycling, is the advisor for Zero Waste Wolves. St. Hill said the NC State 2015 Waste Characterization Study, a study done before paper towel dispensers were installed in residence halls, found that NC State throws away about 288,620 pounds of paper towels from restrooms each year. The study also found that 38% of the waste on campus is compostable.
Levau hopes having students start composting small items like paper towels will push them to eventually compost more items. She said while composting paper towels seems like such a small and easy thing to do, it will actually cut down on a lot of waste on campus.
“I believe that composting paper towels is just an easy start to get people to integrate composting into their daily lives,” Levau said. “It’s just one item, so people don’t get overwhelmed or confused, and just having that habit of composting may ease them into composting more items. The fact that it is so easy and can reduce so much waste with little effort should just incentivize people to make this small change when it really doesn’t cost them any extra time or effort."
Neill Robson, a fifth-year studying computer science, said he believes making composting more accessible to students by increasing the amount of composting bins around campus and in the residence halls might encourage students to compost more; however, he understands the university’s reservations.
“It might be nice, like how every residence hall or every room has a trash can and recycling, if they had another bin that was for composting,” Robson said. “I also realize that those are first off much smaller, made out of a different material and you need the filtering and all that kind of stuff. It would be a much larger expense on NC State’s behalf that a lot of people wouldn’t use even if it was there.”
According to Cross, there are currently nine composting dumpsters located around campus. Cross said they have chosen to implement the Paper Towel Project in residence halls that are close in proximity to these dumpsters, since students are responsible for taking their provided bags for compostable paper towels out to the dumpsters.
Cross said the participating residence halls this year will be Bragaw, Lee, Sullivan, Metcalf, Wood, Wolf Ridge Apartments and Wolf Village Apartments.
Kiran Ruff, a second-year studying computer science, is a resident of Bragaw who has heard about the Paper Towel Composting Project and is ready to get started.
“I saw the little posters and asked my suitemates if they would be down for it,” Ruff said. “So I have to hang up the bag and what not so we can start collecting them.”
For more information on the Paper Towel Composting Project and Zero Waste Wolves visit the Waste Reduction and Recycling website.