The St. Thomas community sees a lot of commuter students cycling to class, but there’s one bike in particular that stands out: the composting bike.

Made by attaching an old Burley trailer to a regular road bike, the composting cycle is the Sustainability Council’s latest endeavor to create a culture of sustainability at St. Thomas. A large, student-designed and -built wooden container sits where the Burley’s canvas used to be and houses a set of composting bins.

“The idea was for it to be like an Uber for compost, to educate students on campus about compost and make it really easy for them to do,” said Hannah Wallace ’19, a College of Arts and Science biology student who is responsible for coming up with the idea and starting its implementation. “Composting is so easy, especially if you have a setup like this.”

Wallace, who served as a student representative on the Sustainability Council, was looking for ways to help students engage with composting. She was awarded a grant from St. Thomas’ Beverage Fund Committee to complete her composting bike project and worked diligently for the last six months to bring the bike to its full potential.

She had the help of Charlie Mossey, mechanical engineering lab coordinator, and Michael Hughes ’20, School of Engineering student and vice president of the Engineers for a Sustainable World Club. Wallace expressed her gratitude for their input, laughing as she recounted her initial plan after being awarded the grant.

“I said to [Charlie], ‘I got this money, and I’m just going to go to Menards and throw some pieces of wood together,’” she said. “And [Charlie] said, ‘No, no, no. Let’s figure this out. We can make this look really cool.’”

Composting bike created by Hannah Wallace '19, Michael Hughes '20 and engineering faculty member Charlie Mossey

Hannah Wallace ’19 had an idea for educating students about compost and making it easy for them to do, so she created the composting bike.

The composting bike has visited several St. Thomas events, including Sustainability Week activities and the CSA Block Party. It was also present at the Zero Waste Picnic, where it recovered more than 65 pounds of compost.

“Overall, people know what compost is; they just don’t know what goes in it,” Wallace said. “I had one person say, ‘You can only put fresh produce in it. I couldn’t put in my cooked peas.’ And I said, ‘No. Any food waste [works], you can put anything in!’”

Plans are in motion to launch the composting bike at the start of the 2019 fall semester. Student volunteers, many of whom are involved with the Sustainability Club at St. Thomas, will cycle around campus, picking up compostable materials from any location on campus – from offices to dorms to classrooms. St. Thomas currently has two compost sites: behind Binz Refectory and behind Dowling Hall.

This means you can start saving those banana peels once September rolls around, since anyone on campus can request a pickup. Participants will be able to sign up through the OneStThomas site, and the on-duty composting bike volunteer will pay the location a visit to collect the compost. People also are welcome to sign up for a volunteer shift to take the composting bike for a ride themselves.

Wallace said she envisions campuswide composting within the next one to five years. Despite the ever-increasing challenges the Earth’s environment faces, she said the “little things” pay off more than people might expect.

“This is our planet, and we still have some time left on it,” she said. “So we’ve got to make the most of it and work to make it a better place.”

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