After nearly two years as a school zero-waste coordinator in Vermont, Gwen Lyons-Baker has come across an interesting trend: Bigger appetites lead to smaller food composting yields.
“What we found is that elementary schools tend to divert more food scraps,” said Lyons-Baker, who works for the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD). “Older kids eat more.”
CVSWMD’s school composting program has reached 100% participation this school year in the seven school districts it covers, adding more appetites – big and small – to its roster.
Under the program, which began in 2004, the waste management district promotes food composting through instructional videos, trivia and other games for about 10,000 students, faculty and staff at 28 schools.
The company also provides a one-year waste-hauling subsidy to help pay for compost collection. The subsidy amounts, which can reach $1,300 for a large school or $400 for a smaller one, depend on how much food they divert.
Lyons-Baker said the waste district also tracks diversion data for the schools.
Money is usually the biggest hurdle for schools trying to start zero-waste initiatives, Lyons-Baker said.
“A lot of the roadblocks are financial,” she said. “As for the attitude around composting and zero waste, people are open to doing it.”
Chris Hennesy, vice principal of Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt., said there was minor resistance to the program at first because people were unsure what to do.
Change can be difficult, Hennesy said, but the program ended up being well-received.
Now the school is in its third year of food composting and it has saved thousands of dollars in collection fees. The high school has 970 students.
“It’s something that is very easy to do,” Hennesy said. “If it is run by students, it has a better chance of success. That’s why it’s been successful.”
Christian Pruitt, food service director for Twinfield Union School in Plainfield, Vt., said in an email interview that the initiative has been beneficial because it gives students a “hands-on education in a basic cycle of life.”
He said the kitchen staff diverts its waste just like the students do. The school has participated in the CVSWMD program for three years. In the past decade, Pruitt said the school attempted composting with other groups with only limited success.
“The youngest students are the most receptive to the composting. They will correct me if I call something ‘trash’ that belongs in the compost,” Pruitt said. “It is part of the everyday routine in our cafeteria. The high school students are not as interested in compost as they are in their own everyday drama [but] they tolerate the composting program.”
Lyons-Baker said the instructional video for older students, which features students rapping and dancing, has gotten a great response by making composting seem “hip and cool.”
The elementary version of the video takes a more traditional approach, giving students a breakdown of what items can be composted and the benefits of doing so.
“Everyone here is environmentally-minded. There are very few schools I came across that were hard to convince,” Lyons-Baker said. “They were open to merging it into their curriculum.”
CVSWMD received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get the program started. The money helped to pay for trucks and outreach materials.
Students have responded to the program because they know they’re making a positive impact on the environment, she said.
“I think they’re drawn to it because they can take ownership of it. They believe they can make a difference,” Lyons-Baker said. “I’m so happy this program reached 100%. The students are so excited and so invested. They like the program and enjoy doing it every day. It’s exciting to see the kids get into an environmental program.”
Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Vince Bond Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org