Original post from Wicked Local –
By Westwood Public Schools, Dec 4, 2019.
This fall, elementary schools in Westwood instituted a new lunchroom composting program with a plan to eventually expand district-wide. It was not the brainchild of any administrator, teacher or parent. The idea came from a group of students in Catherine Starsiak’s second-grade class at the Sheehan School.
“They did a lot of research about what happens to things when you throw them in the trash,” said Kate Doyle, the elementary science coordinator for the Westwood Schools. “They looked at landfills and recycling programs and wanted to know if there was a better way to manage it. They decided to focus on composting.”
Composting was first introduced into the curriculum when Massachusetts made it part of statewide science standards in 2016. As Sheehan students were learning about it last year, many realized they were already composting at home. They all decided they wanted to do more.
Starsiak, Doyle and science specialist Karlyn Lazazzero worked with the students to develop the project. It required them to appeal to stakeholders in the district and, in doing so, they eventually won a grant from the Foundation for Westwood Education. The money has allowed them to fund composting in all five schools for this academic year.
“We’re starting it up one school at a time because we’re using it as an opportunity to teach kids more about renewability,” said Doyle. “We’re talking about the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle and all the things that are really embedded in the science curriculum. It’s also a chance to learn about simply being a good citizen of the planet.”
At present, three schools in the district have fully implemented the composting system. They hope to be in all five before winter break.
The process is fairly simple, Doyle explained. Rather than simply having one large trash can into which all waste goes, students are now taught how to separate everything at the end of their lunch period. Liquids are emptied into a bucket and eventually down the drain. Leftover food or any organic material is put into a compost bucket. Plastic or paper that can be recycled is put into a recycle bin. Any remaining trash is put in the trash barrel. As part of the program, lunch trays are now made from compostable material. Once a week, the collection of compost is picked up by a service that will eventually return soil back to the school.
“Come the spring, we’ll start getting that compost back and we’ll be able to use it to grow things in our outdoor learning centers throughout the district,” Doyle said.
Now third-graders, the students behind the program are still playing a role in the project. As part of the staggered rollout, they are working with students in other schools, helping them become “compost ambassadors.” Their job is to help everyone sort properly and answer any questions about the process.
The students are also collecting data on the entire program. By monitoring how much renewable waste has been diverted from landfills, they will be able to present the information as part of the effort to get their original grant extended. The eventual goal is to have composting both become a permanent part of the budget and be expanded to the entire district.
“This is a really great example of the idea of ‘think globally, act locally.’ We hope to show that by managing the waste stream in a different way, it may help save the earth, but it will also save money,” Doyle said. “When we dump trash we get charged by the weight of it. By separating these streams, we’ve already seen that weight go down significantly. This is good for the health of the planet, but it’s also really good for the bottom line.”