Zero Waste & Plastics Free Mason: Next Up, Industrial Composting Pilot 

Mason Facilities is excited to announce the launch of a new zero waste station, with industrial composting, located at the Starbucks Northern Neck on the Fairfax campus! 

Mason is aiming for over 90% waste diversion from our trash stream, or to become zero waste. Waste reduction, reuse, and donation, as well as diversion strategies like composting/recycling are needed to support our sustainability goal.  

The Starbucks Northern Neck composting pilot is a collaboration between Facilities Management, University Sustainability, the Patriot Green Fund (PGF), and Operations & Business Services and its vendors, and offers the first industrial composting resource available for students, faculty, and staff use.  This pilot complements existing pre-consumer composting in residential dining halls, as well as coffee grounds composting. Foodservice cups, flatware, etc. at Starbucks Northern Neck were pivoted to third-party certified compostable items, which means now visitors can compost them in addition to food scraps! However, be sure to check items for BPI or CMA eco-labeling, like a certification mark, before composting. #cleancompost 

The Starbucks Northern Neck composting pilot will allow Facilities Management and University Sustainability to test different zero waste strategies to improve Mason’s waste diversion rate, supporting data-driven recommendations for implementing both zero waste design standards, and composting at more campus sites. This pilot also complements Mason’s ‘Buy Less, Buy Better’ Initiative, which supports reduction through reuse, and choosing goods to buy based on their lifecycle impacts and sustainable sourcing. In addition to pivoting campus foodservice items to third-party certified compostable, Mason has also switched to high percent recycled content items (e.g., paper bags or aluminum cans), that are also proven to have high product circularity and recycling rates. 

This zero waste station itself is made of approximately 1,655 reclaimed milk jugs – key to supporting post-consumer recycled (PCR) purchasing mandates – and offers updated zero waste design features like restrictive openings and better bin messaging. The interior pilot station includes the following waste streams: 

  • Glass Bottles and Jars 
  • Aluminum Cans and Plastic Bottles
  • Paper 
  • Trash 
  • AND Compost 

Mason Facilities Zone 6 team, led by Louis Robinson, installed two zero waste station upgrades for this pilot in August 2022, adding a new compost bin to the Bigbelly Solar station on the outdoor patio and a five-stream station inside. Both zero waste station upgrades were funded by the PGF program, which laid the groundwork for the Facilities composting pilot and the previous student led Bigbelly Solar project at this site. Mason Facilities Recycle & Waste Supervisor Kevin Brim will oversee collections and operations at the site in partnership with Mason Dining. University Sustainability and Operations & Business Services and its vendors will support planning, coordination, and data tracking/results. 

This pilot exemplifies Mason’s commitment to a just and sustainable future for all. However, achieving zero waste will take the entire Mason community.  

Join us: refill and reuse items whenever possible and take the extra step to properly sort recycling and composting at campus bins. 

Mason Facilities and Mason Dining are also partnered with Compost Crew to collect and compost pre- and post-consumer waste from all three of our Dining Halls on Fairfax Campus (Southside, Ike's, and the Globe). Although this is not Mason’s first foray into composting (Mason’s Potomac Heights Vegetable Garden and Innovation Food Forest include outdoor compost piles for dropping off fruit and vegetable scraps), this was Mason’s first large-scale, industrial composting partnership.

Dining Hall Composting Process

  1. Students, staff, and faculty are encouraged to sort and dispose of non-compostable items, such as candy wrappers or sugar packets, before placing any food waste on the dish return in Southside, Ike's and the Globe.
  2. At Southside, after food waste goes into the kitchen, it is first placed into a pulper that pulverizes the food and removes water before it goes into a compost bin.
  3. Full bins are collected by Compost Crew and transported off-campus to our local industrial composting facility, Freestate Farms.

Why is Mason composting in the Dining Halls, Starbucks Northern Neck Pilot, and the Food Forest/Vegetable Garden?

  • Less waste! According to the EPA, wasted food is the single largest category of material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S. Composting diverts waste sent to landfills and incinerators, reducing methane and other toxic emissions associated with trash disposal.
  • Richer Soil! Compost can be placed back into the soil to boost plant growth. As an soil amendment, compost improves soil quality by helping it retain moisture (while supporting drainage) and increasing nutrient content.
  • Saves money! Composting reduces Mason’s overall waste hauling costs by diverting high volume waste categories away from campus trash.