Spearheaded by honor society, Mohawk Trail Regional School resumes composting

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School senior Austin Sullivan, at left, monitors the sorting station, while other students sort their lunch waste into trash, recycling or compost bins. Food and paper waste is sent to Martin’s Farm in Greenfield for composting. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/AMY DONOVAN

  • The waste sorting station in the cafeteria at Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland. Students sort waste into trash, recycling or compost bins. Signs are provided by Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/AMY DONOVAN

For the Recorder
Published: 3/29/2022 8:43:02 AM
Modified: 3/29/2022 8:42:06 AM

BUCKLAND – At the time the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mohawk Trail Regional School had been composting for eight years. After returning to in-person schooling, however, this practice was not reinstated — that is, until senior Austin Sullivan approached administration.

Sullivan, who runs the composting and recycling committee with the National Honor Society, is now realizing the group’s goal of reducing trash at the school with the help of Amy Donovan, program director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, who does outreach to many schools, events and businesses across the county.

“When I came back to school (after learning remotely), I noticed how much trash was being thrown away and suggested that we start a composting program,” Sullivan said.

Mohawk Trail Regional School initially started composting in March 2012 after Key Club students similarly approached administration. Before the pandemic, Donovan said nearly every school in Franklin County, more than 30, was either composting or sending their food waste to a pig farmer under the waste management district’s guidance.

“The pandemic really interrupted things, so I’m just now getting back into working with schools after that,” Donovan explained. “It’s my goal to make sure students and communities understand how composting contributes to our local economy, rather than trucking trash to a far-off landfill.”

Not only does putting food waste in the garbage create more expensive trash bills, Donovan explained, but it also contributes to climate change. 

According to Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, roughly 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released each year through the production, harvesting, transporting and packaging of ultimately wasted food. Once food reaches the landfills, the scraps begin to decompose, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane gas has a warming potential of roughly 21 times that of carbon dioxide.

“It’s also important to educate young people about these issues so that they can do something every day that helps slow climate change,” Donovan continued. “It gives them hope and teaches them a daily habit that makes a difference over time.”

The National Honor Society has historically managed the recycling at Mohawk Trail Regional School.

“NHS has always been a great environmental leader,” Donovan noted. “It’s really great to see these student initiatives supporting the efforts to learn about waste and what can be recycled.”

The composting program has received support from the student body, and Sullivan noted that other students have done a good job of separating trash from compostable material.

“Because we live in such a beautiful and rural area, we have a lot of students who care deeply about keeping our planet safe and our waterways clean,” said Julia White, National Honor Society advisor and a history and social studies teacher. “Composting is one small way that we can all do something important for our region.”

Students and staff now dispose of acceptable food and paper waste in a dedicated compost barrel lined with a compostable bag. The custodial staff then puts these bags in a compost dumpster that is emptied by Triple T Trucking. The contents are brought to Martin’s Farm in Greenfield. 

Donovan explained that when Greenfield’s public schools were composting prior to the pandemic, they were composting about five tons a month from the six schools.

“My goal is to have our member towns be as green as they possibly can,” she said.

In the future, National Honor Society students will conduct outreach to Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s elementary schools to implement composting there, too. Sullivan also hopes to shift back to trays and silverware that are washable, rather than the Styrofoam or paper materials that are being used now.

“It’s a key piece of NHS to look at the world around you and how to be a contributing member to your community and be leaders in that way,” said Carla Potts, the school district’s director of communications.

Additionally, White explained that Mohawk Trail Regional School has implemented a 10th-grade civic action course, and several students in that class have expressed interest in advocating for composting in their towns as a part of their class projects.

“When I first came up with the idea I didn’t think it would make it that far,” Sullivan said. “It felt nice knowing that I was able to bring something back that was so nice to have in our school. I was shocked it made it this far, but I’m also happy it did.”


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