Composting Correctly on Campus

Hallie Averbach

Manny Dhillon

Emily Hotaling


  • Requested Amount: $150,000
  • Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 11 months
  • Describe your Project: 

The first phase of our project is to increase the amount of recycling bins and compost bins on campus. While recycling bins are already in large presence, there could still be an increase in them in certain areas such as near printers, at campus coffee shops, and in dining halls. However, we would like to mostly focus on composting bins. As of right now, composting bins are sparse. We would like to expand composting bins to all campus cafes, dining halls, and libraries, places where food consumption is abundant. We believe that places that sell products that can be recycled or composted should have means by which to dispose of these products properly.

The next phase is to develop an app. This app would display a map of all of the recycling and compost bins on campus and how close they are to the individual using the app using GPS technology. Additionally, the app will have a section for basic information on recycling and composting different materials. From interviewing individuals, we found that a barrier to properly disposing waste is that they often do not know how to dispose of the waste. Thus, with this section, we hope that individuals will be able to increase their knowledge on how to properly dispose of recyclable and compostable materials.

After we have established the app and the bins are in place, we would start labeling products at campus cafes with QR codes that pertain to how to dispose of them. For example, a coffee cup sleeve would have a QR code printed on it and when an individual scanned it to the app, it would show up with different recycling bins in proximity. The same method could be used on other single use containers. Oftentimes, sandwiches or other products in single use storage containers will already have a label on it denoting what is in the food item, so adding a QR code to the label would not add much waste or extra labor.

We would like to begin this project at the University of Michigan since there is a large number of campus cafes, recycling bins, students, and financial resources to use. Additionally, the University of Michigan already has a campus app loaded with maps and other services, so our app could simply be added to the campus app. However, if the idea proves to be effective, we would like to move this to other college campuses and potentially eventually to cities or other public areas. Individual restaurants or stores could buy into the program to get their products labelled to increase proper disposal.


  • What unmet need does your product meet? 

This product meets many needs regarding how to dispose of compostable and recyclable materials. The first and overarching problem is that individuals do not dispose of waste correctly. That is, they do not recycle or compost items that could be recycled or composted but instead just throw them in the trash. This stems from two other problems, that there is a lack of ways to dispose of compostable and recyclable products properly and that people do not know how to dispose of these products. We found that there are not many recycling bins in public and even fewer compost bins. Additionally, from interviewing people, we found that oftentimes, even if these recycling or compost bins are available, individuals do not know what products are to be placed in what bin to ensure that it gets disposed of properly. Especially pertaining to food items, students are often unaware of how much food residue can remain on a product for it to still be eligible for recycling before it contaminates other products. We hope that with the development of our product, more individuals will be able to properly dispose of their waste which will lead to more recycling and composting all around.

  • Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need. Do not tell them about your idea. Just explore their need. What did you learn? Include names and contact info for interviewees and a few words describing each — age, gender, occupation, town where of residence. Go for variety. 
    • Ania, a female student, age 21, in Ann Arbor mentioned that Ross had composting and removed them because it was too expensive. Mobile:(313) 450-5331
    • Peyton, 21, female Neuroscience student in Ann Arbor says she often does not know how to dispose of different recyclable or compostable materials and does not want to put in the effort to look it up by searching online. (248)-880-8057
    • Erin, 22, female Americorps Volunteer in Knoxville, TN says she thinks individuals would have to be rewarded with an incentive to recycle or compost. Mobile: (906) 399-6831
    • Jacob, 21, male Computer Science Engineering student in Ann Arbor says he doesn’t compost much although he does dispose of recyclables correctly whenever there is an option. Also mentioned he usually doesn’t go out of his way to dispose of waste correctly. Contact info: (586) 668-4093
  • How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use.
    • 37% of the current trash stream is suitable for composting and 39% is suitable for recycling from a study based on two campus buildings over a three-month span. This percentage will be higher for buildings on campus with food service operations and on-campus residences. As seen from the statistics a very large market exists and the initiative would be applicable to anywhere that has a large amount of recyclable and biodegradable waste. Potential locations on campus to include bins for recycling and compost would be lecture halls, dining halls, restaurants, and dormitories around campus.
  • How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors – 
    • This idea brings together technology with recycling and compost in a way that is accessible for the everyday student. Many students do not know where or how to compost or even recycle different items, which leads to products placed in landfill that could have been either recycled or composted. There is not an application that allows people to scan their cups, bottles, containers, and more which then tells them where they can dispose of the product on a map on campus. Our idea would be the first of its kind, allowing simple use. By incorporating the campus map, it helps educate students on the closest disposal bins near them, making the process simpler and more likely for students to act upon. Because it is a new idea, there are not competitors. However, there are applications such as iRecycle or EcoSmart which inform users on how to recycle certain plastics and various items. These are not widely used apps and therefore would not act as competition to ours.
  • How will your idea be financially sustainable? 
    • Total estimated cost for the University of Michigan (including hospital) would be $137,000 for labor and capital plus additional costs for updating the Michigan app to include disposal information. The amount is marginal in comparison to the budget of the entire school. While a $137,000 composting campaign has already been implemented at the University of Michigan, we wish to expand this campaign by about $25,000 to allow for more composting locations and thus, increased pickup. We can also turn composting into a service and sell the compost to surrounding farms in the Ann Arbor area; this would increase costs by about $10,000 because you have to build a product, but with the correct pricing strategy, profit will followif the correct pricing strategy is implemented it could result in profit. This profit can be further used to promote more environmental initiatives and allow the compost program to be self-sustaining. Additionally, as the product expands to larger markets, stores and restaurants can opt to buy into the program to get their products labelled and their compost bins put on the map so that they can uphold a sustainable image to consumers.
  • Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project? 
    • As students at the University of Michigan, we care about the future of our planet, and more specifically the lasting influence of this product on our environment. Each day we see this issue of mishandled compost all around us. We have a diverse group of majors including Program in the Environment, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Economics, Statistics, and English, allowing us to look at the problem from multiple viewpoints. Our majors paired with our willingness and passion to develop a sustainable solution makes us the right team to tackle this problem.

4 Responses to “Composting Correctly on Campus”

  1. As a student who has experienced first-hand the frustration of buying food in a biodegradable container with no knowledge of where to properly dispose of it, I think this is an awesome problem to focus on, especially since the University has invested so much time and money into implementing the products. However, I’m not entirely sure an app is the right solution, especially if you are proposing to increase the number of bins, because after people know where the nearby bins are, it becomes unnecessary. Additionally, asking people to use an app every time they want to dispose of something might be too time consuming or too much effort for many students eating on the run.

    To me, it seems like it would make much more sense to produce a comprehensive sign/navigation system that directs people to the nearest bins around campus, concentrated in the areas that are distributing the biodegradable containers. Then, at the bin locations, maybe you could implement something similar to the water bottle filling stations on campus that tell you the direct impact you have on helping the environment when you properly dispose of your trash.

    All in all, this is a very real problem on campus and I think you guys did a really good job of hashing out all of the elements to be considered in coming up with a solution. Looking forward to seeing your pitch!

  2. I think that this is the most compelling innovation idea out of all of the ones submitted by our classmates; this university has an atrocious recycling program and it needs a lot of improvement. I’ve been in countless classrooms that don’t even have a recycling bin, which is absolutely ridiculous considering how often UMich promotes itself as a “sustainable and eco-friendly” institution. I agree that increasing the numbers and adding compost bins is an excellent idea, but my favorite part of this proposal is the app. People often need to be pushed to take the extra step of recycling, and an app would be a great way not only to encourage users to take time thinking about where they’re going to put their trash but also to help them find the appropriate locations to do so. Eventually, people will remember where they are and probably help teach their friends about the program as well.

    I agree with Emilie that an efficient sign/navigation system would also be very helpful, but I think the app is also necessary in order to push people to see their recycling through. You guys could also include environmental “fun facts” on the app or a point-system type of thing that lets people track how often they’ve composted/recycled. Everyone loves competition!

    Overall, though, this is a fabulous proposal and I too look forward to seeing you guys present it in class.

  3. What a great idea! I think this app would work especially well in Ann Arbor, where I think people are environmentally conscious and would take that little time required for this system to work. I think a sign system and an app would be helpful, as if someone is in an area on campus that they aren’t familiar with, the app would be helpful.

    For your preliminary stages, I would suggest contacting Munger Residencies, as I have been told they they are implementing composting stations, and I believe are the first Michigan Housing location to do so. They might be a good resource to you! Great job!

  4. Hi, Team Composting Correctly. I agree with the others who have commented on what an important and frustrating problem you have identified. Since your ideas around financial sustainability involve lots of cooperation from the university, it might be interesting to talk to the person who runs the university’s current recycling/composting campaign. Lack of info from this person seems like a bit of a hole in your proposal. Still, very interesting ideas. Good job!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s