Lane Students’ Lunchtime Separations Cut Waste by 80 Percent

March 20, 2024
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There are now two schools in Bedford committed to reducing waste by sorting what remains after lunch in their cafeterias.

Students at Lane School have begun separating liquids, recyclables, unopened food products, trash, and food for composting, depositing each waste category into designated bins. 

The program began on a pilot basis last May at John Glenn Middle School and may be launched at Bedford High School in a few weeks.

Erin Dorr, who coordinates this effort as a consultant on the Facilities Department staff, said the process was introduced in phases to the third, fourth, and fifth graders at Lane, beginning with liquids and unopened snacks in the fall. After the January break, organizers introduced recyclables followed by composting.

There’s also an accompanying educational component, featuring a recycling and composting quiz that Dorr administered before and then after presentation of a video.

The result? “These kids,” Dorr said, “are doing an amazing job. As with everything there was a learning curve, but in just a few short weeks, the third, fourth, and fifth graders are becoming pros at proper sorting.”

In terms of the waste stream, “What we are capturing is really amazing,” Dorr described. Before implementation, the Lane cafeteria was generating some 180 pounds a day of lunchtime waste. That has been reduced to an average of about 33 pounds, with removal of 73 pounds suitable for composting, 42 pounds of liquids, 30 pounds of unopened products (up to 100 items in a day), and two pounds of stuff that can be recycled.  

That’s a shrinkage of more than 80 percent of the daily waste stream, Dorr said, and collectively adds up to more than 13 tons in a school year. She pointed out that the percentages are similar at the middle school.

“Though it involves considerable effort, we firmly believe in the importance of minimizing waste and empowering our students to take responsibility for the environment,” commented Rob Ackerman, Lane School principal

“Lane kids are so adaptable,” Dorr observed. “Once they got comfortable with the process, their speed dramatically increased.” She said a parent told her about a new evangelical spirit – her son announced, “Mom, we need to compost at home. It’s so important.”

“We’ve been trying to get liquids out of the waste stream for about eight years,” said the Director of the Facilities Department, Ron Scaltreto. “Other towns have said it worked because of their volunteer force,” and Dorr has been able to mobilize help as well as oversee the logistics, he said. 

There’s also a positive cultural impact. “The program has vastly reduced the amount of garbage thrown out and has actually streamlined the whole lunchtime custodial operation,” said the lead custodian at Lane School, Sam Martin. 

Dorr said the waste sorting at the middle school and Lane is overseen by four Bedford High School interns working two days a week, as well as up to six regular volunteers, some of whom are in their 70s. “Bedford is a very giving community,” she said.

And Dorr added that there are some paid monitor positions available, and she also could use a few more volunteers. For details, persons can contact her at [email protected].

One of the most successful features at the two schools is the “share cart,” where students can deposit unopened packages of commercial food products – breakfast bars, bagged vegetables, some fruits, beverage cartons, snack food – that are then available to anyone at appropriate times during the school day. There is also a “share fridge” alongside the cart.

“They love the share cart,” Dorr reported, noting that among the children at Lane School, the biggest surprise was the amount of food that can be reused if unopened.

At the middle school, Scaltreto observed, the supplies are particularly popular right after sports team practices.

Much of the residual trash is a result of the continued use of Styrofoam lunch trays, which cannot be recycled through this system, Dorr said. Both schools have the equipment to clean washable trays, but are lacking the staff, she said. 

“We are grateful for the invaluable assistance provided by our Facilities Department, with a special shout-out to Erin Dorr for her dedication,” Ackerman said. 

“I am just the driver. We have a whole team full of supporters and helpers – Public Works, custodial, administration, high-school interns, the Energy and Sustainability Committee, and volunteers,” Dorr said. “The school food services have joined in the waste reduction process, with all four kitchens now composting kitchen scraps.”

“Without all of them, it wouldn’t be possible to expand the program.”

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March 21, 2024 9:35 am

I LOVE the idea of the share cart and share-fridge. Having worked many years in the schools it always bothered me that so much good food got thrown away.

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