CHCCS turning food into fertilizer

Aug. 28, 2014 @ 02:37 PM

Elementary and middle school students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have a new routine to learn this year when it comes to cleaning up the cafeteria.
Monday, the first day of school, kicked off a composting program in 15 schools.
“We’re trying to get kids in the routine early and create good habits before we establish bad ones,” said Dan Schnitzer, the school system’s sustainability coordinator.
Teachers, cafeteria workers and custodians throughout the district are spreading the word, educating students about what compost is and why it’s important. More than 250 parent volunteers will also be present throughout the first two weeks of school to help show students what goes where.
But it’s not only the environmental aspect that has teachers excited. The compost also provides rich material to link to the curriculum, said Glenwood Elementary science specialist Sally Massengale.
“This will be something that will tie into what the meaning of sustainability is and what our response is as a steward of our natural resources,” she said.
Schnitzer said the composting plan helps students to take a hands-on role in preserving their world. “It’s their air that they’re helping to clean, their landfill they’re helping to keep empty and their soil they’re using for their garden.”
Massengale agreed. “I think that the children are going to be very excited that they’re doing things that matter,” she said. “What I see in the children already is that they know what to do with their milk. They know what to do with their cartons. They don’t know what it turns into yet, but that’s the next step.”
But some students already had a pretty good idea of why they were sorting their trash.
“Because then the food gets into dirt. And then it makes the flowers grow,” said Arvid Harlid, a kindergartner at Northside Elementary.
The program will help Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to reduce the 218 tons of waste it produces every year. Schnitzer is still running data, but he estimates that landfill cafeteria waste will be reduced by 90 percent.
Under an agreement with Goldston, N.C.-based Brooks Contractor, the company will collect the schools’ compost and sell it to local farmers and gardeners, as well as donating some back to the school district.
Schnitzer said all the compost will be used locally, and the donated compost will be used in both existing and new school gardens.
“We’re not only reducing our negative impact; we’re increasing our positive impact,” he said.
Schnitzer looks forward to having a finished product that can be used further in educating students.
“It’ll be really cool when we can talk to students about, ‘Remember that banana peel we composted during the first week of school?’”