Food Waste and Composting Program Expands to Three More Urbana Schools

Photo | Pam Schipper
On Aug. 8 at Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf, Joe Richardson, Sr., briefs a large group on the expansion of the waste sorting and composting program to additional schools, including Centerville Elementary, Green Valley Elementary and Urbana Middle.

A large group of volunteers, teachers, school administrators, PTA members and students went back to school early on Aug. 8 to orient themselves to an exciting 2019-2020 initiative, the expansion of waste sorting and composting in Frederick County Public Schools—to involve a total of 14 schools this academic year. In the Urbana feeder pattern, the program will be new at Centerville Elementary, Green Valley Elementary and Urbana Middle.

Urbana High and Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf already embrace the waste warrior initiative.

“We are one of the first municipalities in the country to do this,” Joe Richardson, Sr., told the crowd assembled in the Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf cafeteria. “We can show others how it works. … We will be a springboard for other communities.”

Richardson founded Mountainside Education and Enrichment, Inc. (MEE) that has been spearheading waste sorting and composting programs in area schools, including Brunswick
High and Valley Elementary in Brunswick. With volunteer support and funding from the Southern Frederick County Rotary Club, the waste sorting and composting program began at Urbana High in January 2018 with “teacher champion” Elizabeth McCook, and at Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf in January 2019 with “teacher champion” Meghan McKeever.

Newly named the Lunch Out of Landfills program, implementation of this program is not possible without without a “teacher champion,” Richardson said. McKeever, who shared her “Soup to Nuts” School Implementation plan, said that bringing waste sorting and composting
to a school is not simple and a lot of work, but “the rewards are phenomenal.”

With pride, she spoke of her HAWK (Helping All With Kindness) Kids, who worked with fellow students to sort lunch waste into recyclables, composting, liquids and trash from January  through June, weighed each category daily and recorded the data. Thanks to a concerted, cross-disciplinary approach in all classrooms and the media center, McKeever noted, “our
students understand what this is. They’re talking about methane gases, they’re talking about how to separate waste.”

Moreover, UES students understand the environmental stakes. Between 30 and 50 percent of food in the United States is wasted, approximately 63 million tons per year. Most ends up in the landfills, where it emits an estimated 124 million tons of greenhouse gases per year that contribute to global warming and climate change. Data collected by HAWK Kids from Jan.15 through June 14, 2019 demonstrated that with composting and recycling, 84.2 percent of lunch waste can be diverted. Put another way, 19,002 pounds of lunch waste was collected. Sorting out food waste, liquids and recyclables, this was reduced to 2,994 pounds of trash during that six-month period.

McKeever emphasized the importance of volunteers in the lunchroom. “Parents are huge in helping (students separate waste),” she said. Practicing composting and recycling at
home also is an important support to Lunch Out of Landfills—but it takes some initiative.

Annmarie Creamer, Frederick County recycling outreach program analyst, acknowledged that recycling is not simple.

“About 20 percent of recyclables in the blue recycling bins are not recyclable,” she said.

She urged those assembled to visit the Frederick County Office of Recycling website,, for the most up-to-date information on what can be recycled in Frederick County. “And when in doubt, throw it out,” she said. FCPS works with Key City Compost to remove organic waste. Key City Compost founder Phil Westcott shared information on the benefits of composting and some of the challenges his company encounters. He applauded those in the room, noting, “A lot of composters don’t want to touch the schools, but they don’t have all of the people in this room.”

Lisa Orr, executive director of MEE, said that the waste sorting and composting program has been “a very collaborative effort.”

In addition to Rotary partners, who “have been key to this,” she talked of the comprehensive schools support “from the superintendent to the cafeteria staff. … Building services support has been essential.”

FCPS Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo brought more good news. “The county executive notified the public and us last week of a supplemental appropriation to our budget or grant for $65,000 to support the composting initiative,” he said. “We should be able to provide some part-time support for this initiative to educate students in our cafeterias, so we don’t contaminate the waste stream and they’ll be able to help the recycling with the separation, etc.”


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