Pilot Waste-Sorting at JGMS Cafeteria Considered a ‘Huge Success’

July 5, 2023
Separation bins in the Cafeteria at JGMS. Courtesy Image.

The staff member behind the pilot full waste-sorting program in the John Glenn Middle School cafeteria has labeled the effort a “huge success.”

“Our students have been amazing. They picked it up so quickly,” said Erin Dorr, energy and sustainability consultant with the Bedford Facilities Department.

The effort, launched on May 17, comprised separation of food, liquids, recyclables, and trash, deposited in individual bins for each category. Sorting continued over the final month of the school year. 

Dorr said the sorting program results were: 50 percent compostable food, 30 percent liquids, and 18 percent trash. The remaining two percent was categorized as recyclables. The middle school cafeteria averaged more than 100 pounds of waste a day over three lunch periods, she noted. 

During the summer, organizers will evaluate data, identify what worked well, and determine “how can we make this sustainable not only at JGMS, but also rolling it out at other schools,” Dorr said. 

“We made a tutorial video with three middle school students, led by Neeti Bharatan, teacher and leader of the Environmental Club,” Dorr reported. “Art classes, led by teacher Paul Harrington, made colorful and catchy bin posters, and wall posters for the cafeteria.” There were also table tents guiding the process and announcements by Principal Jonathan Hartunian promoting the rollout.

“By two weeks in, students were so well-versed in the program that we dropped from two monitors down to one,” the organizer said. That monitor mainly answered ‘Where-does-this-go?’ questions and helped reverse accidental cross-contamination, she said.

The sorting pilot is “a full collaboration between the school administration, food services, the Department of Public Works, and Facilities,” said Dorr.

Dorr also described other successful efforts to avert food waste. “We implemented a ‘share cart’ at Lane School, piloted with third graders. Upwards of 25 items a lunch period come in and go out to others, and the remainder is put in a snack fridge in the main office.”

She noted that “students are very interested in taking stock in what’s turned in, and also quick to grab what high-profile items become available, such as Cheez-Its.

“We added a second layer of food diversion at JGMS, creating a ‘share fridge’ in the main hallway,” Dorr added, explaining, “This is where unopened or unwanted lunch items go after collection during lunch period for kids to grab for a long bus ride home when they need a snack, or on their way to after school events.”

The initial results indicate success. “We are seeing upwards of 50 items a day cycling through the ‘share fridge,’ things [such as] fruits, juices, milks, yogurts, hummus, and cheese sticks. 

“Growing up, there was a time my family had food insecurity and leaned on assistance,” Dorr said. “Watching packaged food hit the trash while observing our lunch operation tore at my soul. I felt there had to be a better way. Getting [more than] 20 pounds of food a day into our kids’ bellies that previously went into the trash is really meaningful and rewarding.” 

She added, “I’m so grateful to my volunteers from the town Energy and Sustainability Committee in town and BEST who staff the share cart.”

“All of these programs wouldn’t be possible without the support from administration and Bedford Public Schools leadership, our custodians, food service workers, and volunteers,” Dorr said. “The community has really responded so positively. Teachers stop by on their way through the cafe to ask how it’s going and say how appreciative they are that we’re doing this.”

Dorr also reported that during the 2022-23 school year, the four Bedford schools collected more than 50,000 pounds of clothing and other cloth items in textile recovery bins.

She noted that Massachusetts banned textiles from trash in November 2022, since “95 percent of textiles can be recycled or upcycled.”

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