Midland School launches food waste reductions program

A cafeteria aide helps Carter Ryan, 6, scrape off his leftover food into the correct discard bin in the Midland School cafeteria. Photos courtesy Emily Keenan

Midland Elementary School students have learned to scrape, plop and pour their lunchtime waste into the correct bins with such success that lunch now generates 200 pounds of trash a month instead of 3,000 pounds. Before the We Future Cycle Zero Waste program was implemented a month ago, trash from the school’s daily lunch period filled six contractor-sized garbage bags each day.
Students separate their leftovers into liquids; commingled trash that includes hard plastics;paper and food; and plain oldtrash like straws. The paper and food bin receives “everything the kids don’t eat,” Midland parent Emily Keenan said.
Keenan, who has three childrenat Midland, teamed up with fellow parents Callie Gibbs and Kassandra Souply to bring in the We Future Cycle program.
The key to the sorting “discards” successfully comes down to one principle: it’s not trash until it all gets mixed together. When it’s separated and sorted from the start, each type of discard can go on to bigger and better things.
For example, food waste from Midland and other local schools participating in the waste reduction program is carted to Garrick Farm Field in New Milford, Connecticut. Only one company, Suburban Carting, hauls compost in Westchester County, and they charge about $325 per month for the service. While that’s an add-on cost for most school systems, the cost is generally mitigated by increased revenue from plastic recycling, according to We Future Cycle.
John Rubbo, the Rye City School District’s food service director, is optimistic that reduced hauling fees should save the district money in the future.
“Especially once all of the schools [Milton and Osborn] are doing this, there should be a reduction,” he said. “Fees to haul trash to a landfill or incinerator are higher with more trash.”
The We Future Cycle program is a nonprofit organization based in Westchester County that is dedicated to reducing trash at schools. The 2-year-old company also runs textile recycling, on-site composting and a waste-free classroom program.
It was founded by Anna Giordano, a grassroots volunteer who pioneered the concepts in the New Rochelle school district, and Ashley Welde, a former executive with more than a decade of media relations experience.
Giordano was motivated to start the organization by the amount of trash at the William
B. Ward Elementary School in New Rochelle. She had great support at the school level, but
kept bumping up against facilities’ staff for the district. Ironically, her tenacity in determining their reluctance uncovered a conflict-of-interest situation that kindled a house-cleaning.
On her own, Giordano started up cafeteria waste reduction programs in New Rochelle, Ossining,
Tuckahoe and Eastchester. She met up with Welde through a chance email. “We complement each other beautifully,” Giordano said.
Welde said that waste of any sort has always been a concern, but it was her mother’s experience working part-time as a lunchtime aide at the local elementary school that first clued her in to the issue.
Sorting efforts that decrease trash are simplified by in-district food preparation. It’s harder to effect change when a large company delivers pre-made lunches to schools. Packaging is a big issue, Welde said.
Rubbo is wrestling with a packaging problem at Midland right now. “Packets of ketchup are an issue,” he said. “It’s hard to get kids to put the packets in
the right place, so we’re looking at ways so they still have their ketchup but in a different way. We don’t want to take ketchup away from the kids.”

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