UM Catering has kept 31,000 pounds of food waste away from the landfill as of its fifth month of composting this February.

Eva Rocke, UM director of sustainability, said with the help of graduate student Andre Kushnir and catering manager Colton Buford, a pilot program for catering in the University Center launched last October. Sustainability is using its budget to fund the first six months of the program, and Rocke said she hopes catering will keep the program going,.

“If we can divert waste from landfills that’s always a benefit,” Rocke said.

Rocke said rough estimates show catering has reduced waste by nearly a third. Some bins were even introduced to the kitchens in the UC Food Court, spreading the compost to another major food producer on campus.

Catering service manager Lexie Zeller said the transition to composting has been smooth. She said catering employees throw out a lot of food at events, and it’s nice for the scraps to serve a purpose instead of becoming waste.

UM Catering isn’t the first group on campus to compost. The Food Zoo has been composting for over a year.

The Missoula Compost Collection LLC picks up all the food scraps from campus and takes them to Garden City Compost. There, the scraps are transformed into grade-A compost, which can be sold to people for their gardens.

Sean Doty is the founder of Missoula Compost Collection. After graduating from UM with a degree in environmental studies in 2016, he took an Americorps job writing zero waste plans. Afterward, Doty had a hard time finding a job, so he took his zero waste and environmental knowledge and made a business out of it.

Around the same time his business started up, the city got a new compost facility, which can bake down just about anything —from compostable cups to small bones.

Doty explained the important benefits of composting. He said food that goes to landfills gets sealed underground, where it can’t access oxygen. So when the food breaks down, it produces methane, “which is one of the more aggressive or stronger greenhouse gases that drives climate change,” he said.

Doty also said the nutrients derived from food waste can be healthy for gardens and help restoration projects.

His business has grown in the past years. Doty collected over a million pounds in 2019 alone.

“It’s pretty much me just running around like a wild man,” Doty said. He is in the process of hiring his second employee to help handle his roughly 500 resident and 60 business pick ups.

Doty is proud of his business and the impact he has had on local businesses. He said he noticed more restaurants using compostable supplies. He is also doing what he can to encourage youth to live sustainably, starting a free compost pilot program at Jeannette Rankin Middle School.

Rocke said she is excited to see what the future of composting on campus will look like. She said the next step will be to make the UC Commons, outside the food court, a zero-waste center on campus. She said some packaging items sold in the food court aren’t compostable or recyclable, making her project an ambitious one. But, the UC might introduce compost bins to the commons area soon so consumers can contribute to waste reduction.