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Marcellus school cafeterias begin cutting-edge compost program

Cafeteria waste at Marcellus will be turned into this nutrient-rich mulch by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency.

Cafeteria waste at Marcellus will be turned into this nutrient-rich mulch by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency. Laura Ryan

— That old adage about one man’s trash being another one’s treasure will soon come to life in Marcellus school cafeterias. Well, sort of.

A new composting initiative, set to launch close to Earth Day, won’t exactly spin garbage into gold. But it will turn food waste into nutrient-rich mulch — and also save the school district a bit of “cabbage.”

For the past month or so, workers in the district’s three school kitchens have been separating food scraps from the regular trash stream and placing them in small yellow buckets. Those buckets then are emptied into specially sealed receptacles on the building loading docks, and the contents eventually are carted off campus to be shredded and composted, according to Keith Watkins, superintendent of buildings and grounds at Marcellus.

Watkins, working jointly with the food services department, began looking into composting as part of an ongoing, district-wide effort to cut costs. “We looked at what was going into the trash bins, and 90 percent of that waste was coming from the cafeteria,” he said.

The district hopes to make a much bigger dent in its trash volume starting in April, when students in the three schools will be encouraged to start separating the trash on their lunch trays. Plastic straws and utensils will go into the garbage can, while napkins, straw wrappers, biodegradable food trays, milk and food scraps all will dump into specially marked waste containers.

The program is a collaboration between the district and trash hauler Waste Management. Overall, the program should save the district between $2,500 and $3,000 in annual trash-hauling costs, which currently run about $22,000 a year, Watkins said.

In addition, the Marcellus program — called “very leading edge” by a Waste Management representative — recently won a $5,000 Keep America Beautiful grant. Watkins said the grant will offset the cost of the biodegradable food trays and trash bags.

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