Schools across America are increasingly adopting a practice that not only saves them thousands of dollars and benefits the environment, but offers students hands-on projects that correspond to the curriculum at every grade level. Surprisingly enough, this sensational practice is composting.
Early to the green bin game, San Francisco already had the infrastructure in the '90s to be the first to place the receptacles in school cafeterias, and now at least 80 percent of the city's public schools have them. Not surprisingly, of the other districts with strong school composting programs are Portland and Seattle, as well as many other districts in Oregon and Washington state.
Tamar Hurwitz, environmental education manager at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, says she's shared start-up information with many municipalities, like Cambridge, MA, Denver, CO, and even rural Bellingham, WA. Now that people are learning the role it plays in reducing greenhouse gas, Hurwitz says, "Composting is today what recycling was in the '80s." In other words, it's about to explode.
Since New York state launched its school organic waste collection pilot program at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, 16 schools and 17 colleges have taken part, with 10 more in the process of joining. One of those schools is the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School, which the Utica Observer-Dispatch reports saved more than $6,000 annually in trash disposal fees, which run about $70 per ton.
Mary Schwarz, extension support specialist for the Cornell Waste Management Institute, says that up to 80 percent of typical school “garbage” is actually compostable material. After the recyclables and liquids are also separated out, only about five percent of what gets thrown in the garbage is actual trash. Realizing that, more schools have willingly adopted composting programs to save on waste management costs.
But there are further economic benefits to the process. Compost, which is the rich substance created from decomposed organic materials, can be used as a soil conditioner for school gardens, landscaping, and athletic fields, preventing the need for costly and environmentally damaging fertilizers.
But the benefits hardly stop there.
Kim Chaloner, the Dean of Community Life and 9th grade biology teacher at Grace Church School in Manhattan, agrees that, "There are a lot of entry points for the kids." In the early childhood program, after clearing their own lunch tables, the youngest students take their compostables to a worm bin in their homeroom to learn how food decomposes. Elementary school students relate the practice to their lessons on conserving resources and energy. And high school students, who are taught to cook their own food, composting has been integrated as a final step in their process.
"I’m really happy that a lot of what we started is run by the students," Chaloner says. "They feel that they own it and that’s really important."
While a school's administration or grounds team may be the ones to introduce composting, teachers also can take the initiative by talking to their principal, maintenance, or cafeteria staff, or by planning a small classroom project, using mini compost bins with their students.
Local waste management departments or non-profit organizations like the Cornell Waste Management Institute provide resources for interested educators and schools. And with them, schools interested in a larger program can strategize whether off-site composting is the appropriate option, or whether it's preferable to keep the process on school grounds so the compost can be used for landscaping, gardening, and expanded educational opportunities.
Original article from TakePart