Green Fund Awards First Grant to Off-Campus Composting Initiative

The grant, awarded to Phoenix Sustainability Initiative, will subsidize subscriptions to composting services.


Hyde Park on a sunny day.

By Tess Chang

The University of Chicago’s Green Fund, a $50,000 pool of grant money dedicated to “student-led research and projects for improving campus sustainability and reducing the University’s environmental impact,” awarded its first-ever grant to the Phoenix Sustainability Initiative (PSI) last week. The funds will be used to subsidize subscriptions for off-campus students to a local composting service, the Urban Canopy.

According to its announcement on Facebook, PSI “will provide 50 [percent] subsidies for University students through the end of winter quarter (and possibly spring quarter). These subsidies mean your household can get compost pick-up for between $7.50 [and] $18 per month based on your preferred pick-up frequency.”

The PSI’s composting initiative received $2,700 from the Green Fund grant. It was the sole grant recipient in the winter quarter. The Green Fund, housed under the Department of Campus and Student Life, was in April of 2020 after lobbying by the UChicago Environmental Alliance (UCEA), a student-led coalition of campus sustainability groups. It has designated up to $50,000 in grants for the 2020–21 academic year.

Tim Koenning, a second-year student at the Harris School for Public Policy and a member of the Green Fund Student Committee, said that there were five or six applications in total. “This project was the sole recipient of a grant this quarter because it was the only project submitted that the judges believed to have adequately met the requirements for funding,” Koenning said.

While the Green Fund’s mission is to increase the sustainability of our campus, “Off-campus composting fits into the mission of the Green Fund because…it is considered a campus sustainability project that would provide tangible improvements to our university,” said Koenning. He explained that the Green Fund defines campus broadly to include facets of student life that are not necessarily on University of Chicago property.

Second-year undergraduate Chloe Brettmann leads PSI’s campus composting project group. Her group has been advocating for more systemic composting efforts on campus for years, but it has repeatedly run into administrative resistance and logistical difficulties. “It was a very slow-moving process,” she said.

At the end of winter quarter last year, Brettmann’s group successfully obtained funding from Student Government (SG) to pilot a composting program in student-run cafés. The trial was supposed to run in the spring of 2020 but was abandoned due to the rapid shutdown of campus.

“This year, with all of the student cafés closed, we had to regroup and ask what would have an impact in the era of COVID…We were sort of thinking about ways that we could subvert administrative roadblocks entirely,” Brettmann said.

Through the program, Brettmann hopes to show students that composting is just as easy as recycling.

“We don’t think of composting the same way as we think about trash and recycling. It’s [viewed as] this extra step that hippies do,” Brettmann said. “It’s actually quite easy, and services like Urban Canopy make it as easy as taking out your trash and recycling.”

She also hopes that success in this initiative will help persuade the administration to enact systemic on-campus composting in the future. Ideally, the off-campus composting initiative will serve as a stepping stone to integrating composting into the campus dining halls and cafés. High interest and participation in the composting subsidy program would be presented to the administration as evidence that students care about composting and the issue of food waste.