Lower School Tackles Food Waste Problem

Last spring, students in Katie Musick’s third grade class discovered an article about food waste in a Time for Kids Magazine that sparked many questions. What is food waste? How do people recycle food waste? Why do people recycle food waste? Why would a local government require food waste to be recycled? All of this and more were just some of the questions that would start the Food Waste Recycling Pilot Program in Collegiate’s Lower School.

Photo credit: Katie Musick

Any food that is discarded or unused is considered food waste. However, it is a much bigger problem than most people realize. Some facts that were found by the fourth graders include: Americans add over 70 million tons of food waste to landfills each year, and they waste over $165 billion annually on food. In addition, 25% of food purchased in the United States is never eaten, and 40% of all food produced is never used. Currently, only 3% of food waste is actually recycled, and the average person produces 475 pounds of waste each year. These statistics completely shocked the students, but soon they decided to try to make a change.

To begin, the third graders all wrote persuasive letters to the Head of the Lower School, Debbie Miller, asking to begin a food waste recycling program in their cafeteria. Miller agreed, and after presenting their idea to the Business Office and other school leaders this fall, the now fourth grade students established the Food Waste Recycling Task Force and are now working to educate others within the community through posters, flyers, and presenting in Lower School’s “Town Meeting.”

At 7:45 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, I went to the Lower School and watched the fourth graders rehearse for their presentation on food waste for an upcoming Town Meeting. Arriving early, and chatting excitedly, the students seemed thrilled to be there and were eager to share what they had learned. In their presentation, they talk about all of the facts that they learned in Musick’s class last year, and about the new food waste buckets that will be placed in Centennial Hall for students to use. Fourth grader Shaan stated during the skit, “Remember how you can only put natural foods into the compost buckets? Like carrots, apple cores, banana peels, and orange rinds? Well, you can put ANY food at all into the food waste recycling bins.” Later in the skit, Shaan’s classmate Cate explained the bins further, stating, “Anything except the wrapper or container! And no utensils or napkins, either.”

Photo credit: Katie Musick

When asked about the overall goal of the project, Musick stated, “the goal was to start a food waste recycling program in the Lower School. Then, when these kids graduate from the Lower School and go to the Middle School, they want to be the food waste recycling ambassadors. So when the new McFall Hall opens, these kids will be fifth graders and will be bringing this program to the Middle and Upper school cafeteria.”

The students on the “Task Force” seem to have already put their plan of bringing their food waste initiative to the Middle and Upper school. Collegiate has partnered with N.O.P.E. (Natural Organic Process Enterprises) whose mission is to, “work with companies and institutions throughout central and eastern Virginia to develop food scrap and organics recycling programs. NOPE facilitates the collection and transportation of organic materials to a proper Virginia DEQ permitted composting facility.” This means that for every 2,000 lbs of food that N.O.P.E. collects from Collegiate, it will return 40 lbs of compost to the school to be used onsite or for landscaping and gardening.

The fourth graders on the Food Waste Recycling Task Force have been working very hard to try and bring more awareness to the Collegiate community. So don’t let their efforts go unnoticed, and as the fourth graders enthusiastically exclaimed at the end of their skit “PLEASE Recycle your food waste!”

About the author

Olivia Laskin is a senior at Collegiate School.