And in 25 public schools around Franklin County, it’s happening in a big way.
The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District has reached a milestone: 25 public schools around the county divert all food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens into compost programs.
That’s 33 of 35 schools around the county, including seven public high schools and five private schools.
“It’s very impressive because they’re reducing the trash coming from the kitchens and cafeterias, often up to 90 percent,” said Amy Donovan, program manager at the 21-town waste district, which she said has the state’s most comprehensive school composting effort, representing almost the entire county. “This is a blanket.”
Students at all of the schools — excluding only non-district members Ashfield and Shutesbury — have been taught to separate trash and recyclables from leftover food and paper waste.
Greenfield Public Schools, where a compost program began in 2016 with the aid of a $30,000, three-year state grant subcontracted through the waste district, now send about 5 tons of food and paper waste to be composted commercially at Martin’s Farm in Greenfield.
While three schools around the county — Warwick, Hawlemont and the Franklin County Technical School — run their own on-site composting operations for food waste, 22 others, including the six Greenfield public schools, send food and paper waste to commercial operations like Martin’s, Clear View Composting in Orange or Bear Path Composting in Whately.
There, materials are shredded and placed in large piles to decompose at higher temperatures than in a backyard compost bins.
Students and staff sort their waste to compost materials, including paper napkins, paper towels, paper lunch trays, paper food “boats,” paper soup bowls and paper milk cartons. Many of these programs collect about 75 pounds of compostable waste each day, reducing the contents of the trash barrel to less than 10 pounds.
In addition to costing less than sending waste to landfills, composting slows climate change by not emitting methane as landfills do, Donovan says. And it transforms waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
More than a dozen public schools also separate paper waste from classrooms composting — including paper towels from handwashing — and a number of schools also have an on-site garden compost bin for garden and yard waste in conjunction with school gardens, for which the district has set up 30 worm compost bins over the past 11 years.
Five schools have been composting for over 15 years, making their programs some of the first school compost programs in the state.
“Right now, it’s second nature to them,” said Peter Blake, custodian at Northfield Elementary School, which along with Pioneer Valley Regional School set up the county’s first school composting programs in 2000. “They’ve been doing it since they were in pre-school. So as they move up through, they all know the milk carton goes here, the food goes here and the trash goes there … I have an 8- (cubic) yard dumpster that’s pretty much full every week between milk cartons and paper and compostable materials, so there’s 8 yards that’s not going to the landfill,” I even have kids who come up and say, ‘There’s a piece of something that’s not supposed to be in the compost… They know. Now we just need to teach the adults.”
Mahar Regional as well as elementary schools in Orange and four or five smaller towns have livestock farmers who pick up their food waste, according to Donovan.
The state, which has been promoting efforts to reduce waste going into landfills because all Massachusetts landfills are scheduled to close within 10 years, has turned to the Franklin County district in producing a “how to” video for other schools to institute composting programs, said Donovan.
“Kids can easily connect with the compost life cycle, and starting kids young is a way to change behavior,” said Donovan, adding that composting is part of the state’s new science curriculum standards. “I’ve seen a real cultural shift in these schools; students are learning that food waste is too good to waste.”
Learn more about the programs by visiting: http://www.franklincountywastedistrict.org