The United States currently generates 390 million tons of trash per year, or 7 lb per person per day (Kasper, 2013; van Harren et al., 2010). The quantity of waste generated has far-reaching environmental impacts. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ≈30% of food is wasted, which amounts to nearly 1.3 billion tons per year (FAO, 2011). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2009) estimates 96% of uneaten food (21.5 million lb annually) ends up in landfills each year. This waste accounts for an additional 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases released into the earth’s atmosphere annually (FAO, 2013).
Raising individual awareness of the immediate and long-term effects of food waste disposal in landfills on the environment is important, particularly in large organizations. Instead of conventionally disposing of food wastes by sending it to a landfill, composting is a more sustainable alternative that is gaining popularity. Through a decomposition process, composting takes organic waste and turns the matter into a “topsoil-like” material called compost, which has environmental and economic value.
With increased enrollment, college campuses experience increases in food waste generated. These self-contained campus environments, which model other large organizations, offer opportunities to influence change by collecting pre- and postconsumer food wastes from students participating in the recycling/composting sorting process in the cafeterias (Sanders et al., 2011).
In some areas of the United States, separating green waste from trash and recyclables has become law. In some areas, bans have been placed on businesses and institutions improperly disposing of one or more tons of commercial organic waste a week (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2015), whereas other areas have made sorting organic waste from garbage mandatory for either organizations or homeowners (City of New York, 2015; Green Cities California, 2014; Seattle Public Utilities, 2014).
Creating an atmosphere where students are able to actively engage in the maintenance of their campus community and environment is one way to begin educating and introducing the concept of separating food waste and its environmental impacts on university and college campuses. Ohio University (Athens) is currently home to the largest in-vessel composting system on any college or university campus in the nation collecting food scraps 6 d per week from the Central Food Facility and campus dining halls (Ohio University, 2015). Before 2009, on-campus dining halls at Texas State University (San Marcos), discarded on average 300 thousand pounds of food waste per year (McKenzie, 2013). In 2011, 3 years after the Bobcat Blend composting program at Texas State University had been implemented nearly 57 tons of food waste had been diverted from landfills and made into compost. In 2012, with a crew made up of seven student employees, Bobcat Blend processed nearly 80.4 tons of food waste from dining halls across the university campus (McKenzie, 2013).
Ohio University and Texas State University are not the only campuses to integrate green waste programs. College campuses and universities across the nation are beginning to experiment with the benefits of such an interdisciplinary education concept regarding food waste, energy conservation, and their environmental impacts (Lilly, 2010). To support these efforts, many college campuses are integrating composting programs to collect food waste and are also using the programs to educate students about environmental stewardship (University of Texas at Arlington, 2015).
Actively engaging and educating college students regarding the importance of composting and the positive effects their actions play on the immediate and distant future of the environment is vital to the success of a continued sustainable future. Irresponsible environmental behavior at the individual level is a cause or exacerbating factor for many environmental problems and issues (Bradley et al., 1999). People develop environmental attitudes at a fairly young age, but those attitudes are thought to continue to be malleable (Bryant and Hungerford, 1977). For example, children as young as junior high exposed to environmental courses improve environmental responsibility and awareness (Bradley et al., 1999; Jaus, 1982; Jordan et al., 1986; Ramsey, 1989; Ramsey and Rickson, 1976). According to Newhouse (1991), life experiences (such as engaging in the actual process of recycling and composting) are most likely to play a direct role in forming a person’s environmental attitude; in turn, individuals are able to witness firsthand the immediate and long-term benefits of their work (Cammack et al., 2002).
Previous research indicates educating high school–aged youth about the environment can have positive effects. Positive, statistically significant correlations were found between environmental knowledge and environmental attitudes of high school students (Bradley et al., 1999). “Environmental knowledge improves environmental attitudes, and positive attitudes toward the environment result in environmentally responsible behavior” (Cammack et al., 2002). When people understand the positive implications of their actions and are able to see results and a tangible product of their labor, future actions are more likely to be positively affected and influence the continuation of positive environmental habits (Arcury, 1990; Hungerford and Volk, 1990; Newhouse, 1991; Ramsey and Rickson, 1976).
Locus of control refers to the belief that an individual’s actions play a direct role in the result of any affair (Aguilar et al., 2008). An internal locus of control indicates the individual believes their actions influence the outcome, whereas an external locus of control indicates the individual believes their actions have little to no influence on outcomes. This is an important consideration in developing proenvironmental behaviors, as individuals who believe their actions do not influence the outcome are less likely to modify their actions (Aguilar et al., 2008). It is also important to note the environmental locus of control of young people “are particularly important because young people ultimately will be affected by and will need to provide solutions to environmental problems arising from present-day actions” (Bradley et al., 1999). However, research studying the environmental attitudes and environmental locus of control of college students, some of the young adults next to make decisions regarding their environmental behaviors, is very limited.
The purpose of this study was to measure the relationship between participating in a college composting program and students’ environmental attitudes, environmental locus of control, compost knowledge, and attitudes toward composting.
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