compost, landfill and recycle signs above foodservice trash collection containers

Composting and Recycling for the Better

Schools find ways to reduce landfill trash, while teaching students and helping the environment.

Waste happens, and it often ends up in the landfill … unless your school foodservice operation invests in composting and/or recycling.

Food scraps add 28 million tons of waste to U.S. landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That doesn’t include the disposables, such as straws, utensils, cups, plates, trays and packaging.

No matter whether you’re composting or recycling, it’s very simple to get started:

  • Find out what waste can be composted/recycled
  • Find out if there’s a compost/recycling hauler in your area
  • Consider the costs and what they can/cannot take
  • Buy can liners and bins to separate waste

The benefits include everything from changes in food buying and production to eliminating trash-bin overflow that attracts pests and reducing waste-hauling expenses.

At Indian Community School in Franklin, Wisconsin, food waste composting has diverted 22,571 pounds of food from the landfill in 2018—the weight equal to 21 grand pianos.

School Foodservice Manager Natalia Woehl, RD, says benefits include food production efficiency, as well as a reduction in trash bag usage, from 22 cases in 2017 to 10 cases in 2018. Garbage pickup costs fell by $100 a month.

At Little Miami Schools in Maineville, Ohio, Food Service Director Rachel Tilford purchased a StyroGenie to handle tray waste. The refrigerator-sized device uses thermal densification to shrink foam trays using heat. It’s a closed-loop recycling system, turning a stack of lunch trays into a solid block that’s taken to a plant where 90% of the polystyrene oil is recovered and used to make more foam products.

As with any equipment, there was an initial cost, but Tilford says the school district is using about half the amount of trash bags it once used, and is tipping the dumpsters every other day instead of once a day.

Listen to our composting podcast featuring Gary Bilbro, a Regional Manager for EcoSafe Zero Waste.