GREENFIELD — A year after the Greenfield Public Schools began an initiative to compost food waste, the town’s five participating schools are together reducing their monthly trash weight by at least five tons.
The program began last January in The Discovery School at Four Corners, and has expanded to Federal Street School, Newton School, the Math and Science Academy and Greenfield High School. Amy Donovan, the Franklin County Solid Waste District’s program director who is implementing the program, said the five schools are reducing cafeteria and kitchen waste by 79 percent. Individual school rates are higher — up to 86 percent.
“The reason this is important is because we have very few years left on the landfills in Massachusetts and we need to reduce trash,” Donovan said. “Trash disposal is very expensive in this region and it’s only going to get more expensive when those landfills fill up and close up, so whatever we can save from the trash is going to save money and save space in landfills.”
Donovan said all types of food — except liquids — and paper waste are collected in the cafeterias and kitchens in yellow compost barrels. The barrels are lined with compostable bags, which go into a compost dumpster. The dumpster is emptied weekly and contents are composted at Martin’s Farm in Greenfield.
Each elementary school has a “Green Team” that helps monitor the sorting line in the cafeteria.
“Those fourth-graders have been excellent helpers and they’ve really impressed me with their work,” Donovan said, adding, “We’ve been able to reduce trash at each cafeteria and kitchen to one very small, very light bag per day that weighs an average of 10 to 15 pounds.”
Donovan said many people don’t realize there’s a strong connection between waste and climate change, making the program even more important. When food and paper waste is sent to a landfill, it releases methane — a strong greenhouse gas. In comparison, she said composting does not release much methane.
The schools’ five-ton reduction in trash is mostly due to compostable food and paper that’s now being sorted out, but Donovan said just over one ton is liquid that’s being poured off for the first time.
“Now we’re having the kids pour off the milk, pour off the soup and then compost those containers,” she said. “The liquid gets poured down the drain, and that’s good because that’s reducing the weight of the trash that’s turning up at the landfill.”
Trash from the schools is hauled by Waste Management, which estimates that the overall trash from the school system has been reduced by 50 percent. The savings obtained by reducing trash dumpster capacity or frequency of service has been reapplied to the compost hauling.
The program is funded by a three-year, $30,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program as part of the Green Communities initiative. The grant covered all equipment and educational materials needed to launch the program last January, as well as consulting services from Donovan.
She said as a condition of the grant, the schools must continue the program after the grant has run out as a long-term solution for waste problems. She hopes to bring the program to Greenfield’s two remaining schools — the Academy of Early Learning and the middle school — within the next few months.
Since 2003, 18 other schools in Franklin County have begun similar programs to recycle food and paper waste generated by their cafeterias.
“The Pioneer School District pioneered this, ironically, in about 2003 with Martin Farms, and they have shown that they were able to reduce their trash significantly at Pioneer Valley Regional School, Bernardston Elementary and Northfield Elementary,” Donovan said, adding the initiative is one that kids can really connect to.