BENNINGTON -- Students at Mount Anthony Union Middle School have incorporated composting into their lunchtime ritual.
The program, a partnership between the school and TAM Waste Management of Shaftsbury, encourages students to dispose of food waste in buckets in the lunchroom, which are then delivered to TAM. The school then later "closes the loop," receiving some of the compost back to use in its garden.
The school recently received a $2,500 grant from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund to fund composting-related activities. Science teachers used some of the grant money for projects. For example, Hilary Peck's class designed a three-bin composter that will be used to collect compostable material from the school's garden. The final design, which was an amalgamation of three designs produced by teams of students, will be installed in the garden as soon as the weather gets warm, according to Stephen Greene, the school's sustainability teacher.
Other funds from the grant will be used for staff and faculty training and publicity for the program. According to social studies teacher Helen Fields, who is the middle school's contact person with the Vermont Farm to School Network and a member of the New Routes Farm to School Committee at the school, the committee is hoping to sell "composting team" T-shirts to raise funds for the composting project. Farm to School awarded MAUMS with a grant over the summer that allowed seven staff members to attend a three-day training session on sustainability.
Fields also mentioned that students would eventually take field trips to TAM to observe the compost production process.
Greene was hired to be the sustainability teacher, which was a new position at the school, in August of last year, after spending the previous four years being involved with the school garden. That garden will now grow vegetables and flowers for use in his sustainability class.
Student volunteers direct students who are disposing of their trash after lunch as to which bucket their refuse should be placed. Organic waste is thus separated from paper and plastic, which is separated from silverware. The students are not all members of the sustainability class, said Greene, but students who saw presentations on the program and were willing to donate their time.
Greene spoke to the importance of composting, noting that around 40 percent of the materials in landfills is organic waste. When decomposing in landfills, organic waste produces methane gas, which is 21 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, which is what is produced through composting, according to TAM's website.
"Students are already aware of the need to use our resources more wisely," said Fields, "We're hoping that they can now transfer that knowledge to their homes, and encourage their families to participate in curb-side composting."
Greene noted that the school was trying to get ahead of the curve in regards to the Universal Recycling of Solid Waste Act, which was passed through the Vermont legislature in March 2012. The act will ban all recyclables from landfills by July 2015, yard waste by July 2016, and all organic materials, including food scraps, by 2020. Producers with high volumes of food scrap will have to implement to policy on an accelerated timeline, with generators of 52 tons of food scrap every year needing to be composting by July 2015, generators of 26 tons per year needing to be composting by July 2016, and generators of 18 tons a year needing to be composting by July 2017. "It's the first step, in terms of educating the public," he said. It is also a step toward the school's goal of converting 80 percent of its waste into alternative streams, such as recycling and composting.
In order to educate students about composting, the school held a poster contest among the sixth graders, with the best two poster designers winning a free apple peeler. Those posters are now on display at the middle school.
"What we have now," said Fields, "Is 500 families who are teaching themselves and others how to be part of a sustainable future."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB