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Roosevelt University's Composting Program

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Roosevelt’s Somat pulper can grind 1,200 pounds of food waste with water every hour, producing a “slurry” of one-eighth-inch- sized confetti-like pieces weighing 300 pounds. The mixture is piped to the Wabash Building loading dock where a hydro-extractor squeezes out the water, recycling the water back to the pulper for reuse. In the process, the material, which resembles cooked hamburger, and is dotted with green and orange particles from lettuce, carrots and other vegetables, can be condensed to less than half its pulped weight and 20 percent of its volume.

Each week, approximately 1,000 pounds of this partially-dehydrated pulp is picked up from containers on the Wabash Building’s basement dock, loaded into a specially- designed small fuel-efficient truck, and transported to Chicago’s South Side.

Collecting pulped material from about 40 Chicago sites, including many of the city’s high-end restaurants, the Resource Center grinds the matter down further, adds wood shavings and other carbon-rich materials and then lets it sit for six weeks of decomposition.

Microorganisms break it down, heating the material and killing harmful bacteria; white strands of funghi form to continue the decomposition once the matter cools; then, millipedes, rolybugs and other insects chomp on it, reducing it further; and finally earthworms take over, enriching what remains with nutrients capable of feeding plants.

“It sticks together like a good soil, it’s high in organic content and high in nutrition,” said Ken Dunn, founder and president of the Resource Center.

Called a genius by Chicago Magazine for his holistic approach to solving systemic problems and profiled by the media as Chicago’s guru of recycling and urban gardening, Dunn uses the compost to grow 80 varieties of vegetables on three acres of vacant lots – a land area he hopes to be able to expand. He then closes the sustainability loop by selling the produce back to top Chicago restaurateurs like Frontera Grill, North Pond, 312 Italian Restaurant and Lula Café, to name just a few.

This spring, the compost material is being delivered back to the Wabash Building and Schaumburg Campus garden sites so Roosevelt can close its own sustainability loop.