Compost! Everybody’s doing it…

schoollunch.jpgActually, I’m not sure many schools are even aware that Waste Management will collect specially sorted organic (a.k.a. “green”) waste from their lunchrooms.

Well they can now, and they do.

Peralta Elementary, always a leader in gardens and all things green, has reduced its landfill-bound trash this year by 75 percent, according to Christopher Waters, an active parent.

Today, Glenview Elementary School kids began sorting the remains of their lunches between the trash, recycling and compost bins for its brand new composting program. Fifth-graders will soon be trained to monitor the sorting process. (We don’t want Hot Cheetos bags to mingle with the leftover barbecue sauce and unwanted bread crusts that are rotting away, producing humus.)

Read what the EPA has to say about compost here. The site has a detailed description of what it is and how it’s used — although it seems to refer to the kind you do at home, rather than the large-scale compost pick-up happening at schools.

Interested in making the switch? Waters and his environmentally-minded ilk would be more than happy to help you get things going. For resources and support, you can go to the OUSD Garden Council’s Yahoo! site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ousdgardencouncil/

If you want to go straight to Waste Management, its schools coordinator is Rebecca Parnes. (RParnes@wm.com)

What other schools are composting these days, or thinking about it? Do you think OUSD should let those schools keep the savings from its trash bills and use it for other facilities needs?

image from absolutwade’s Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Paula Larsen Moore

    I worked in the cafeteria today at Glenview helping the students sort their lunch trash and I was amazed at just how much the students care about and know about their trash. Most of them were very thoughtful about sorting everything.

    I’m also so glad the district will allow us to keep the money we save. It was pretty incredible to learn just how much we save monthly with this new system. It makes me think we should tackle our PGE bill next. I definitely think the district should be accountable for all costs– and take a hard look at what each school is spending on operations before touching class size and librarians. We need to be smart about how we save money and minimize the impact on our kids.

    I’m curious about how the composting is going at Peralta–does anyone know if they have trash monitors at lunch? How long did it take for the kids to learn the ropes? I’d appreciate any feedback from Peralta parents…

    Paula–Glenview parent

  • http://www.peraltaschool.org Christopher Waters


    Under Results Based Budgeting, each school’s site budget is loaded with a certain number of dollars based on number of students, calculated through Average Daily Attendance (ADA). How the principals spend those funds is (for the most part) up to them. Needless to say, there is far too little money, and if, like most sites, you can’t afford that extra half-time custodian you need, or an art program, or to hire an experienced veteran teacher, no amount of composting is going to make up for those needs. Nonetheless, every little bit helps.

    I personally launched the lunchroom waste sorting program by spending three solid weeks of lunches at Peralta, running the students down a line of carefully and distinctly-labeled bins, with some artful, parent-created 3-D displays showing which items go in which bins. There was no candy or other unhealthy reward system — just a lot of high-energy enthusiasm, high fives, low fives, exclamations of amazement at their knack for getting it right, lots of verbal reinforcement in general, and frequent pointing out of the immediate physical results of how much they were “saving from the garbage” on any given day, and then a little math thrown in to multiply that day by 260 days in a school year, etc. The students got so fired up about watching me digging around in the garbage and “rescuing” compostables, making funny faces, thinking of funny, icky names for the bucket of “soup” that filled up with leftovers of milk, juice and other liquids, asking them if they dared me to drink it, telling them I would only do it if they threw in some toenails and other nasty stuff — squeals of delight, and 100% participation! A few well-placed site visits by Rebecca Parnes from Waste Management to assess our progress (we got an A+!), and one or two follow-ups by me every month to make sure the kids are staying on their toes and not getting sloppy.

    This has been an important part of a larger learning process that is happening at Peralta, and the kids are thrilled about it. Their parents keep telling me that their kids are now teaching them — with directorial precision — how to “do it right” at home!

  • Sue

    Thank you both! This is a great idea, and I wish I had the time and energy to get it started at my boys’ schools. Maybe I can pester our PTA into doing it.

    We compost at home, and love what it does for the garden. Big, beautiful, healthy plants, lots and lots of flowers, and bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are all regular visitors. My kids eat and even *enjoy* our homegrown produce.

    Of course, home composting is different than the Waste Management version. There are types of waste they can handle in an industrial program that home composters can’t. But it’s still good.

  • John

    What is that swirly purple(?)cupped stuff in the lower left of the divided lunch plate!? It looks like a great nutrient for legalized marajuana.