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Chapel Hill elementary, middle schools bring composting to lunchtime

Posted September 26, 2014
Updated October 6, 2014

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— Many school systems recycle paper, glass and aluminum in the cafeteria, but now a local district is making sure even the food gets a second life.

All Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools elementary and middle schools started composting this school year. Sustainability Director Dan Schnitzer said this is a big change from simply trashing everything at the end of lunch.

“You walk through the line and just dump your stuff,” Schnitzer said. “What we have to do is go through a multi-step separation process, so it's retraining behaviors.”

So far, it seems to be working. Officials say in the first two weeks of the school year, they have cut cafeteria waste by 90 percent.

"Food waste goes into a landfill and turns into methane gas, which is more toxic to the environment than carbon by about 20 times,” Schnitzer said.

Brooks Contractors collects the waste, and the compost goes back to local farmers and gardeners. Some will even go back to schools for spring planting projects.

“The apple core they composted at the beginning of the school year can be composted and turned into tomatoes, which can be composted, and the circle continues,” Schnitzer said.

Morris Grove Elementary School fifth-grader Kadian Willoughby likes the sound of that.

“It makes me feel better, because I think there should be more trees and plants,” Kadian said.

The school district hopes to keep more than 140 tons of food waste out of the landfill. Officials also hope to expand the composting program to high schools.


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