By Kate Johnston
Collegiate’s Earth Society club announced a project for the newly renovated McFall Hall at the end of last year. Prior to this change in the cafeteria, “we only had landfill,” according to Earth Society president Lauren Lynch (‘18). “There was no recycling or compost,” but with the opening of the new cafeteria on August 23, Collegiate implemented both recycling and composting in McFall, along with landfill-bound trash bins.
Inspired by San Francisco’s mandatory recycling and composting ordinance in 2009, the concept of large-scale composting began to spread around the country. Remaining popular only on the West Coast for a while, now people all over are beginning to realize the immense benefits of composting and recycling.
“The idea of food waste compost and recycling originally came from Lower School teacher Katie Musick’s third grade class two years ago”, says Director of Responsible Citizenship Clare Sisisky. The idea originated after Musick’s class read an article which emphasized the negative impacts of food waste around the world. The class put together a presentation for some administrators and were then encouraged to explore how they could implement a change at Collegiate. Continuing to meet into their fourth grade year, Musick’s students put together a proposal with a budget and contacted the composting company NOPE (Natural Organic Process Enterprise). After beginning the project in the Centennial Hall in 2015, Musick’s class won the ‘Green Schools Challenge for Sustainability’ for Virginia schools. Continuing to expand the project, they contacted Lynch, who used an endowment project to help bring this into the Upper School and McFall Hall.
Lynch explained why Earth Society embraced this project with the Lower School, saying that “food waste is an important issue, and we throw away insane amounts of food every day. [Composting] is one way that it’s really easy not to have to change your lifestyle, but still make a change in the environment. A lot of environmentally friendly practices do require changes in your lifestyle, [but] this is one that I thought Collegiate students could handle as an easy first step.” It is very difficult to create a project in which everyone in the school can easily participate, but this one has been a success so far. Found in both McFall Hall and Centennial Hall, JK-12 students and faculty are involved in this long-term project.
This system is a successful first step in preventing the United States’ massive amounts of food waste, which, according to The Washington Post , is approximated to be 63 million tons each year, from simply being thrown into the landfill. Food waste is creating an environmental problem that is heavily contributing to humanity’s carbon footprint, but composting is able to help.
As explained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), landfill undergoes anaerobic decomposition, which means it doesn’t receive oxygen and produces methane. On the other hand, composting undergoes aerobic decomposition, which produces carbon dioxide instead of methane, which is a much more environmentally-friendly process. Composting not only reduces methane emissions from landfills but also lowers an individual’s carbon footprint.
Speaking to students and faculty around campus, I received mixed views about the different receptacles. Lynch believes that, “it is still a work in progress, but it is working pretty well, and the people who want to be invested in it do a good job.” Maya Jackson (‘19), a member of Earth Society, is “very enthusiastic” about the change that has been made. Along with the rest of the club, Jackson is excited to see “so many students contributing to the effort as a whole.”
The faculty, along with the students, seem to be embracing the new change by making different decisions whether something is for recycling or composting. Director of Student Life Beth Kondorossy emphasized how well Lynch and the Earth Society club promoted this change. Believing this promotion was a key factor in the success of the project, Kondorossy said, “she sees a lot of students [and faculty] looking at the trashcans and making different decisions than they have in the past.” Despite all the positive views, there is still some confusion around the topic. Many students, like Hallie Rowland (‘19), think “It’s great idea, but it is a little confusing. It takes a minute to figure it out, but the signs are very helpful.” Lynch also explained how they purposefully placed signs above each bin to label which products belong in which bin.
Explanatory signs in McFall Hall.
To clarify this confusion, Lynch explained that, “All paper products and food, including bones, go into compost, and then materials without food waste, except styrofoam and plastic bags, go into recycling, and all other things go into landfill.” Despite many students’ concerns about not knowing which items to put in which bins, Lynch seems to think that, “for the most part people do the right thing, but every now and then I will see stuff in the recycling or landfill that I should see in the compost.” It will take time for the project to run completely smoothly, but for right now it is accomplishing its original goals. This project has brought much more awareness to Earth Society’s goal of making Collegiate more environmentally friendly going forward.
Along with maintaining the food waste bins in the cafeteria, Earth Society is preparing for more projects in the future. Lynch explained how they, “are planning to start a garden outside the North Science building which will grow vegetables that can be used in the cafeteria.” This garden will hopefully be another contribution to Collegiate’s cafeteria, environmentally friendly efforts, and campus landscape.
All pictures by Kate Johnston.
This post was updated on Oct. 29 to more accurately reflect the origins of Collegiate’s composting program.