Tucson Meet Yourself enthusiasts are familiar with an energetic, green-shirted collaborative called the Compost Cats, who annually staff TMY green stations and encourage TMY goers to stash their garbage, recyclables and food scraps sustainably. In past years, supported by the Compost Cat inspiration and expertise, TMY has managed to keep more than 14,000 pounds of material out of Tucson’s landfills, sending thousands of pounds to recycling centers and thousands more to San Xavier Co-op Farm, where the waste becomes compost.
Last month, the UA Compost Cats were recognized by EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Program, winning a regional Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) award designation for 2015 Compost Cats data.
The Compost Cats began in 2010 as a small “Compost Go Live” initiative within the UA Students for Sustainability program — a few students wanting to make a difference. The group program was renamed Compost Cats and grew in 2011 to collecting food waste from the Student Union for composting at the UA Campus Agricultural Center. Composting operations then expanded to the San Xavier Co-op Farm, and the partnership with the Nation helped the Compost Cats initiative to mature further, with a 2014 intergovernmental agreement with the City of Tucson, which resulted in further expanded Compost capability, and access to organic materials from the city’s restaurants and grocery stores.
In this month’s environmentalist focus, BorderLore called upon the Compost Cats club Communication manager Patrick Brewer, to illustrate how activism and attentiveness to both social and ecological quality of life are fundamental to sustainability of cultures and environment. In his words:
Compost Cats is comprised of 21 student employees from a variety of backgrounds, and our advisor, Chet Phillips. Some of us were born and raised in Tucson, others are from around the country. It’s our diversity and the variety of our walks of life that have enabled us to thrive in recent years.
Collaborative with the Tohono O’odham Nation
We’re proud to partner with the San Xavier Co-op Farm, a collective of the Tohono O’odham Tribe. For access to equipment and land on which to work, we exchange 20% of our finished compost. We cannot undersell the importance of the Tribe in our collective success story: when we needed land, they welcomed us on their farm and, arguably, allowed for the continuation of our program. They’ve helped us to plant the idea that commercial composting can be successful in Southern Arizona , and because of this, we hope to start a broader discussion on the importance of reducing environmental harm in order to create a more just society.
Compost Cats Culture
I think that the way in which our organization is structured, is particularly illustrative of our commitment to providing an equitable opportunity to our group. Students are invited to participate in every step of our process: from picking up food waste in our stakebed truck, to drafting business plans, conducting meetings, creating marketing materials, and presenting at national conferences. Every one of us (female, male, large, and small) is an OSHA certified heavy equipment operator. By allowing students to democratically manage and run this business (rather than simply operate it), we’ve created a culture which educates and empowers all of us.
In conjunction with the City of Tucson Event Services, Compost Cats provides waste removal services for a variety of local events like Tucson Meet Yourself. We show vendors how to properly sort their back-of-house waste, and staff waste stations to teach the public a little more about the issue of food waste. We’re partnering with TUSD schools to reduce waste and teach students the importance of waste reduction.
- Compost Cats director Chet Phillips talked to SFA in 2014 about connecting sustainability to folklife. Read more here.
- Learn more about UA sustainability on campus here.
- Read about the UA’s top-three finish in its first Pac-12 Zero-Waste Football Challenge.
- Fighting food waste on college campuses, a 2013 Sustainable America feature.