The numbers are stunning. Since Jan. 15, Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf has generated 11,132 pounds of lunchtime waste—and has diverted 5,779 pounds of organic material and 2,577 pounds of liquids to composting, a whopping 75 percent.
This takes it away from the landfill where most food waste is buried and emits greenhouse gases, including methane which is 25 to 30 times more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Add in a cleaner recyclable stream, and only 12 percent of Urbana Elementary lunchtime waste now makes its way to the landfill.
The Frederick County Sustainability Commission recognized the Urbana Elementary HAWK (Helping All With Kindness) Kids for their composting program on Wednesday, April 17 at Winchester Hall.
“This is great to see so many young people interested in these topics,” said Ron Kaltenbaugh, chair, to a hearing room packed with students, parents, teachers and administrators.
Bar-T Mountainside’s Joe Richardson leads the Food Waste and Composting pilot program at Urbana Elementary, a follow-up to the Urbana High composting program begun in January 2018. “The data has really been pretty compelling,” he said.
“Some of our HAWK Kids every day have gone into the lunch room after the lunch period. They pull the bags out of the bins. … They weigh it on a daily basis,” Richardson explained. “They weigh everything. They weigh the trash, they weigh the recyclables, they weigh the organics and the liquids. So, they have been doing this every day after lunch period since Jan. 15.”
Urbana Elementary Principal Tess Blumenthal said, “We are so proud of our students and how they have embraced this. It started with Joe coming for a visit and his enthusiasm … our staff was immediately caught up with it.”
Meghan McKeever, one of the Urbana Elementary teachers who spearheaded the school’s composting program, said, “The kids have been awesome delegating jobs and taking charge of it. It wouldn’t have been possible without them. They show up and they collect the data. … We’ve talked about becoming waste warriors, and I really feel like that’s what we’re doing.”
HAWK Kids, who are third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, were honored by grade and shared their thoughts on the composting program. Eight students from Brunswick High were also honored by the Sustainability Commission for their pilot program that involved trash sorts and data collection at Brunswick High, Brunswick Middle, Brunswick Elementary and Valley Elementary.
Senior Loretta Donoghue, who initiated the program in Brunswick, said, “It was really eye-opening for us to see how much we really go through and throw away, and I think it was disappointing how little information our peers had about it—so seeing so many elementary and middle schoolers with us today is really exciting.”
“The data that they (the Brunswick High students) gleaned from this supported what we were seeing at Urbana, and all of this data is critical,” Richardson said.
The Southern Frederick County Rotary has been funding organics removal at Urbana High and Urbana Elementary. Next year, the composting program will be expanded and operate in at least 14 schools.
“Rotary clubs are going to band together to fund organics removal at these schools with the intent of proving that … it can be done within the budget of the school system by reducing the number of dumpster pulls,” Richardson said.
“FCPS pays $106 per dumpster pickup,” he added. “The organics removal is about $54 a week. If we can reduce one dumpster pull between two schools, the school system can afford to implement this program system-wide.
“We want to prove that this doesn’t cost more, that this can be done within the budget. All we have to do is properly sort … and if you also reduce waste by 85 percent, it would more than cover the cost at all schools. So what started at Urbana High School last year, what’s been ongoing at Urbana Sugarloaf this year is going to spread and within two years we anticipate this will be system-wide.”
This would make Frederick County Public Schools the first school system in the country to embrace a system-wide composting program, Richardson said.