Photo: Hannah Cryder

Western has a new mural commemorating campus sustainability efforts championed by LEAD Sustainability, in conjunction with Western’s food service provider Sodexo, who composts approximately 40 lbs. of Western’s food scraps from the Rare Air Café (RAC) each day. 

After the food waste is collected and pulped, it is taken by Sodexo employees to the Rocket Composter. The industrial composter was facilitated by LEAD Sustainability students and installed in 2019 with the aid of the Facilities Department, at a total cost of more $180,000 (covered by a state recycling grant). The Rocket Composter also composts the coffee grounds from Mad Jack’s Cafe.

The mural’s installation. Photo courtesy of Bryce Hanna.

From Top’s Oct. 5 article entitled “Western students seek to make composting a campus norm”:

“The largest monument to food sustainability [on campus] is the Rocket Composter, a 13-foot-long stainless-steel tub perched on a platform at the University Center. The Rocket processes organic waste generated by the Rare Air Cafe, which is pulped and loaded into the Rocket with a mix of wood chips, requiring just 14 days to emerge as compost. 

Aerobic microorganisms break down the food scraps at a temperature of around 190 degrees, turning the slew of organic matter into nutrient-rich compost. This process is a prime example of a “closed-loop system”, where resources remain useful after their initial usage.”

Later in that article, Western alumna Dannah Leeman expanded on the importance of composting: “Composting is so important because it addresses so many sustainability points: GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction, carbon sequestration, soil health, water, food, and even human health.”  Leeman is a former LEAD Sustainability Mentor herself. 

This spring, in an effort to raise awareness of the existing on-campus composting and circular economy efforts, LEAD Sustainability commissioned a mural outlining the regenerative composting process for one of RAC’s walls. Over the weekend of April 22 and 23, Hannah Cryder, a double major in Art and Biology, hammered out the lion’s share of the mural. 

The mural’s first stage. Photo: Abigail Krueger.

Cryder has some prior experience creating murals, including completing several for her old high school. When LEAD Sustainability put out the call for applicants and proposals in January, Cryder took advantage of the opportunity to paint a larger mural and leave a legacy at Western. 

“It was super cool to take it as an opportunity to learn more about the sustainability that’s happening on campus,” Cryder adds, “It’s cool to take on projects that connect you with people in the community and at the university…Everyone knows we’re taking sustainable action – but what does that actually mean?” she asks.

Cryder met with Demitra Biddle, a current LEAD Sustainability Graduate Mentor who has been instrumental in ensuring the Rocket’s smooth operation over the last several years, and in overseeing the passage of many of the day-to-day operational duties to project partner Sodexo.

The rocket composter being fed by Demitra Biddle, LEAD Graduate Sustainability Mentor

Throughout the mural creation process, Cryder enjoyed the synergy present between her biological and environmental focus and her artistic abilities. “[I was able] to combine my two biggest interests–the environment and art, making [the mural] palatable for everyone else, something that’s [both] visually pleasing as well as informational,” says Cryder. 

She admits she struggled initially with the prompt, balancing the desire to produce an aesthetically pleasing mural with the themes around compost, reduction and reuse, and the circular economy. 

Ultimately, she chose to focus on the literal regeneration transformation from decaying food products to fresh vegetables and plants, centering Western and conveying the mural’s ultimate message:

In fashioning the mural’s design, Cryder pulled inspiration from other composting and recycling murals, and ultimately landed on a simple, elegant design that allowed her to engage her friends in the mural’s creation. “On Saturday [April 21] I had five different friends come and help me paint for a few hours which was cool because they were all super stoked.”

One difficulty Cryder had to work around was the mural’s large scale, complying with Sodexo’s space requirements and translating her design vision onto the wall itself. “I created a grid on the [wall]…but I was kind of freehanding everything,” she relays. “I never paint food, so that was fun and different.”

Even the paints Cryder utilized reflect the mural’s message; eco-paint from ECOS Paints that is water-based and free from the toxic chemicals, like volatile organic compounds (VOC), found in many paint brands. “Most acrylic paints are plastic-based, so it was cool to take another step and ask, ‘how can we make this more sustainable?” Cryder relays. 

“I was really impressed with the [paint’s] quality,” she adds.

Cryder’s favorite part of the process? Adding the black outline at the end.

“It makes it pop and [seem] so much more finished,” she concludes with a smile.