Guest Columns

School Composting Saves Money, Food, and the Planet

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By Miriam Gold

The Pleasantville School District can save a lot of money and food and decrease carbon emissions if it implements a food composting program.

A late 2019 World Wildlife Fund report estimated that U.S schools waste 530,000 tons of food per year. While composting meat and fish isn’t possible, schools would drastically reduce food waste by composting fruit and vegetables.

Composting accelerates the decomposition of organic substances by creating the most suitable conditions for detritivores. Detritivores are microorganisms that consume decomposing plants, animals and bodily waste.

When there are more of these organisms living in the ground, the soil is richer and ideal for growing plants, trees and crops.

Leaves, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, livestock manure, sawdust and shredded paper can all be composted in a designated bin.

Once the bin is filled up, empty it into a well-drained area, such as a garden.

Composting lowers methane emissions caused by landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

Based on my own time spent in the cafeteria, students who purchase school lunch usually leave behind the fruit and vegetables. These are two types of food that can be composted. Imagine how much food waste and how many pollutants would be lowered if all schools composted.

One way to convince students to compost and recycle is to hold regular in-class meetings about the importance of composting and its benefits for the environment.

Many people don’t know how to sort their leftover food and trash properly without help. Hence the reason why there are unused paper napkins in the garbage and food wrappers in the recycle bin.

There aren’t even labels on the blue bins, causing plastic and paper to be mixed together. I am proposing a way to encourage recycling and add compost bins while practicing social distancing.

Due to COVID-19, there is a strong possibility that students will be eating in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria, so recycling and composting should take place in these locations.

To make sure the classroom garbage bins don’t overflow, students should come by with separate bins during the lunch periods. These bins can be labeled “plastic, metal, glass,” “compost,” “paper” and “trash” with paper and permanent marker taped on with clear masking tape.

School administrators can direct respected student leaders to walk around the classrooms during each lunch period with the bins to collect all the waste. Student leaders who volunteer or are selected to collect compost and recyclables may earn community service hours from the school, as well as rewards, such as pizza and ice cream parties.

Once their composting and recycling collections are completed in all the classrooms, they will be emptied into a larger bin that is also labeled.

All compost should be taken to a bin and stored until the end of the last lunch period. The edible garden students can then take the bags of compost and put them in a large wheelbarrow in one of the school gardens to mature for at least three months.

The schools will directly benefit from composting as well. The plants and vegetables growing in the three gardens would be healthier and much less food would be wasted.

All composting and recycling bins and other supplies would cost $575.80. The bags to line the bins would cost about $25 for 100 bags.

To pay for recycling and composting costs of the program, I looked at annual Pleasantville School District budgets dating back to 2015. In the “Materials and Supplies” section, for “Operation of Plant,” under “Capital,” the proposed budget doesn’t come close to the actual expenditures. For instance, that line for the 2017-18 school year was $58,500; the actual amount spent was $49,187. In 2018-19, $58,500 was again budgeted and $48,964 was spent.

There are differences between the approved budget and the money spent during each year. It may be inferred that this pattern will continue. Districts should use this to their advantage. They can get the funds for composting from unspent budget monies.

Pleasantville’s proposed budget in the “Materials and Supplies” section for this year is $92,250. Assuming there is $3,000 leftover, the school still has $2,424.20 to spend. According to an external audit of the district, about $1,953,000 was not spent in 2018-19.

There are 85 incinerators across the U.S, burning 29 million tons of garbage and food every year. From Pleasantville, village garbage trucks transport trash to Wheelabrator Westchester, an incineration facility in Peekskill.

This trash includes much of the food waste in the village, except for residents who choose to compost.

Burning trash releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere like lead, mercury and carbon dioxide. These substances are harmful to the people living near the incinerator and our environment.

Residents and their food sources near incinerators are exposed to unhealthy amounts of air pollution. These chemicals contaminate animals, including fish, making them hazardous to eat.

Composting food waste will reduce the amount of trash incinerated, and ultimately the dangerous toxins dispersed into the atmosphere. Equally important, it reduces the carbon pollution schools generate.

Miriam Gold is a freshman at Pleasantville High School.


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