Lunch scraps are being turned into plant food at a local elementary school, thanks to a new recycling program and lots of green-minded students.
Dutch Fork Elementary School is participating in a pilot program to reduce the amount of food waste the school sends to the landfill. Richland County Solid Waste & Recycling (SW&R) received a grant from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to set up the program, and SW&R selected Dutch Fork Elementary to be the test group because of its well-known ecofriendly operations.
“Dutch Fork Elementary School is really committed to taking care of the environment,” said Richland County Recycling Coordinator Shirley Mims. “The teachers and students are great and they take recycling seriously.”
Each day during lunch, student helpers and cafeteria staff direct students about where trash on their lunch trays should go: the recycle bin, the food waste bin or the landfill bin. The contents of the recycle bin and landfill bin are eventually hauled off to their respective destinations, but the contents of the food scrap bin are turned into nutrient-rich compost that will feed the plants and flowers in the school’s many gardens.
“It really comes full circle,” said Amy Umberger, Resident Scientist of Dutch Fork Elementary School. “For students to understand that food waste can be turned into this healthy compost that will and be used in our flower beds and greenhouse illustrates that trash isn’t always just trash.”
After each lunch period, the collected food waste is weighed using a special scale provided by SW&R. The amounts are recorded on a large poster inside the cafeteria for students to see, as a way to encourage students to waste less food in general.
The food scraps are picked up at the school by SMART Recycling, an organics hauling company, and dropped off at ReSoil, a nearby composting facility, where it will take several months for the food to transform into compost. But Umberger says it’s worth the wait.
“Students get excited at the idea that what was once their unwanted food is now this super healthy plant food,” she said.
With the new food waste project off to a seemingly successful start at Dutch Fork Elementary School, SW&R hopes it can help bring the program to additional Richland County schools in the future.
“It would be great if we can help get other schools on board,” Mims said. “This project is a win-win for us, for the schools and for the landfill.”