In October 2012, Every Tray Counts presented a proposal to Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent, Support Services, for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, to replace polystyrene trays in the school lunchroom with a more suitable tray option. While the school district had not begun to tackle this issue, they were already looking at issues like this throughout the district. They agreed that, if Every Tray Counts could find a willing school, principal, parents, teachers, teacher assistants, and custodial staff, a pilot could be launched.
Reviewing the summary of meals served in CHCCS (below) an opportunity presented itself in making a difference. Of the 1 million meals served in the district, 777,000 of those meals were served on polystyrene trays were served in FY11-12!
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools
Daily Participation Summary
From: 8/25/2011 – To: 6/8/2012
|BREAKFAST MEALS||LUNCH MEALS|
At the initial meeting on 01/15/2013, a decision was made that a waste audit should be performed prior to the pilot. This information would supply the foundation to analyze and compare the results of the actual pilot. Much research and effort was involved in creating a successful outcome. Research included: best lunchroom practices, tray alternatives approved for use in the lunchroom, availability of a private commercial composting service to pick up food and trays, and decisions on bins needed and how the pickup process would work.
The chart above reflects the result of the audit, showing that waste, using a commercial composter, could be reduced from 139.3 pounds to 13 pounds, a decrease of91%! With the help of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools principal, teachers and custodians, interested parents, local government staff, and a commercial composter, the pilot program at Morris Grove Elementary School exceeded initial expectations. The original goal of replacing the polystyrene trays with compostable ones became a much larger one to take a look at all of the issues surrounding the trash cycle in the district.
In preparation for the pilot parent volunteers were enlisted as monitors to help the kids with “What goes where” and custodial and cafeteria staff were briefed. In addition, there were other projects going on that dovetailed easily into this pilot. Phillips Middle School had begun a project with the Phillips Recycle Team to empty the used milk cartons before throwing them in the trash. This would allow the milk cartons to be recycled instead of discarded. Organizing the timely flow of the lunch line was of utmost importance.
Pictures and other communication helped the kids understand what to do. Pictures were placed above each bin with examples of items that could go into trash:
Along with the pilot, the school staff incorporated waste issues into the classrooms. Science and art lessons taught the science of waste, recycling, composting, and identified the impact of waste on the earth and community. Amy Rickard also enlisted the support of upper administration to identify practices to ensure successful implementation at the school.
In the lunchroom, the kids learned quickly and became leaders in putting the waste in its appropriate place. Lunchroom staff, including the custodians and cafeteria workers, and volunteers joined into the action and identified opportunities to improve the flow of the kids, waste, and made suggestions about the products used by the cafeteria to serve the lunches! Staff and kids created signs with visual reminders of what waste went where.
Thanks to suggestions from the custodians, the messy smack-n-stack process of dumping food waste from the tray into a bin and stacking the trays was switched to having kids dump trays and food together into compost bins that could then be rolled out for disposal. This was easier for the kids and for the custodians.
The pilot occurred so seamlessly that the numbers of volunteers needed at each lunch period dwindled from 2 to 1 within a couple of weeks!
In short, waste transitioned from a hidden, smelly, and unexamined topic to a beautiful and exciting one, with tangible rewards as well! The savings and rewards that unfolded are exciting!
CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO SCHOOL DISTRICT RESULTS:
From “Gecko Grove”, May/June2013 Volume 5, Issue 5, a publication of the Morris Grove Elementary School PTA:
As we shared earlier, the Geckos have been working on making our cafeteria a little more green. I am pleased to tell you that our compostable trays have been a success. The students are continuing to compost their trays and leftover food, pour out leftover liquids, and recycle milk cartons, bottles, and other items. This is making a tremendous impact on our environmental footprint! We appreciate all of the parent and community volunteers who have assisted in supporting this new initiative. A special thanks goes out to our Second Graders who have provided educational messages on our morning announcements to teach everyone about our new green procedures! – “Principal’s Note”, Amy Rickard, Morris Grove Principal
- Saved $12,000 in waste disposal costs. The savings were achieved by reviewing current disposal practices prior to the waste audit and pilot project. This was a significant first step to finding ways to offset the additional cost of tray alternatives.
- Reduced amount of waste going to landfill in waste audit alone, disposed trash from 139 pounds to 13 pounds by achieving recycling compliance and composting food and trays!
- Raised awareness that polystyrene trays are a hazard and a danger to the environment and do not belong in school lunchrooms.
- Educated students, staff, and parents that waste reduction is something we can do that positively affects our community.
- Created momentum for staff and volunteers to look for ways to further reduce waste. For example, on nacho days, two plastic cups were used to hold the sauces. A suggestion was made to serve the sauces directly onto the trays. More waste reduced. It was that simple!
- Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools hired a Sustainability Director.
- Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools replaced polystryene trays with compostable long-fiber paper trays for the 2013-2014 school year, eliminating a total of 777,000 polystyrene trays. The compostable trays were also diverted from the landfill to a commercial composter.
Chapel Hill – Current News
The composting program in the Chapel Hill Carrboro School system continues to be successful! Over 13,300 pounds have been diverted from the landfill! The metrics presented early in the school year show impressive efforts: