Giggles and exclamations of “eww” erupted in the Urbana Elementary cafeteria on Friday, Jan. 4 as 12 fifth graders, all members of HAWK (Helping All Kids With Kindness) Kids, donned blue gloves and prepared to sort third-lunch trash. When Bar-T Mountainside Education and Enrichment Composting Working Group founder Joe Richardson upended the trash onto a large tarp, the sickly sweet odor of yogurt permeated the air.
Students and their advisor, Meghan McKeever, along with members of the Southern Frederick County Rotary sorted the waste into four bins—liquids, compost, recyclables and trash—and recovered unopened and uneaten food to collect data in support of their “share table” suggestion for the school lunchroom. “One in six Frederick County kids go hungry,” Richardson explained. “That’s why we want to have a share table (for unopened, packaged food).”
Bins were weighed. The 102 pounds of third-lunch waste was reduced to 12.8 pounds of trash when liquids, organic matter/compost and recyclables were taken out. This, Richardson stressed, represented only one-third of the school’s lunchtime waste for that day.
The Jan. 4 trash sort was part of more than a week of community education events leading up to the Jan. 14 launch of a new composting program at Urbana Elementary School. Powered by the HAWK Kids’ enthusiasm, know-how and hard work, the program launch was made possible by the Bar-T Mountainside Education and Enrichment Composting Working Group and supported by the Southern Frederick County Rotary Club.
Richardson rolled out a similar program at Urbana High last January, and he hopes to begin another composting program at Urbana Middle soon.
“Ultimately the goal is we want to demonstrate to the county they can save so much money in reducing the amount of trash. … What we started here in this school should be replicated in every school in the county,” Richardson told parents at a Jan. 8 PTA meeting.
With the Jan. 4 trash sort data, HAWK Kids ran the numbers. “We could convert 18,455 pounds of trash per year down to 2,300 pounds,” Richardson said, sharing their findings with parents.
And saving money is only one benefit. More importantly, “Most of waste is sent to landfills where it’s estimated to produce 124 million tons of greenhouse gases,” Richardson said. “One of the problems that happens when you bury organic matter is it breaks down into methane gas. … Methane gas is 25 times more destructive to the ozone layer than carbon emissions.”
But “when you take organics and compost, you take something that is harmful and turn it into a commodity that can command as much as $90 a yard,” he added. Key City Compost collects Urbana Elementary’s organics for composting, a service that is funded by the Southern Frederick County Rotary.
Richardson told parents to expect their kids to bring home lots of information about recycling.
Richardson and Frederick County Recycling Outreach Program Analyst AnnMarie Creamer gave a series of educational presentations on recycling and “turning organics into dirt” to students on Jan. 9. Students learned where their trash currently goes, how much food is thrown away and how they can turn waste into something that benefits the planet. Recycling exercises turned the students into enthusiastic waste warriors.
“This is how you start saving the planet,” Richardson said.