What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Oval Park Grille helps sponsor Durham school's compost project

Posted November 28, 2015

Oval Park Grille works with Durham school

— Community, environment and education came together in this effort between a local business and school. E.K. Powe in Durham has been spearheading an effort to be more conscious of sustainability in their lunch program since 2014. The school has reduced their waste from over seven bags of cafeteria trash to half a bag of trash daily.

They are also the only school in Durham using compostable lunch trays, and composting cafeteria food waste.

How has all of this come about?

We talked with a few of the program organizer.

Robert "Bobby" Hartman was one of the original parents involved in the concept.

“It all started in the fall of 2013. We had a group of parents at Powe that for years got tired of pulling recyclable materials out of the trash dumpster. We also were interested in getting rid of the polystyrene lunch tray that was used in the cafeteria," Hartman said.

They were introduced to Sue Scope, co-founder of Every Tray Counts. She started a program in a Chapel Hill elementary school that switched the trays to a compostable paper version. Scope said she was not originally intending to delve into composting, but it was a logical progression of events. The organization has blossomed to a three-pronged initiative: education to instill a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost’ mindset in youngsters and staff, tray replacement – from polystyrene to compostable trays, and composting with the engagement of local business and government.

They began meeting and performed a waste audit one day in the cafeteria. They sorted and weighed all of the trash. Most of the weight was from liquids and food waste. There was a fair amount of recyclable materials, mostly milk cartons, and most of the trash came from plastic baggies. The cafeteria was producing more than seven large trash bags of waste each day.

They had more meetings and decided to pilot a waste diversion program the final month of school in 2014. Most notably, they received cooperation from every level of school administration and maintenance. They had paper trays donated by Durham Public Schools, and the composting was paid for by Brooks Composting during the pilot.

They set up a line in the lunchroom to have the kids separate the items on their trays, and started by dumping their liquids. This was mostly milk. A typical day yields about a five gallon bucket of dumped milk. They then moved on to a recycling cart. Here they put their milk cartons and any other recyclable materials. Next came trash. Most of the trash consisted of plastic baggies, plastic utensils, and chip/snack bags. Lastly, they dumped their food into the composting cart. They had kids stack their lunch trays beside the composting cart to be put in at the end of lunch. This allowed for the best usage of space and we could usually get two days’ worth of food and trays per cart. This helped because we were paying by the pickup of each cart, not weight.

After the waste diversion program pilot, the cafeteria was producing about half a bag of trash per day. Recycling went through the roof instead of filling two trash dumpsters, the recycling dumpster was now overflowing at each pickup.

Now, here is where it gets even more unique for the Durham public school. They received a donation from Oval Park Grille on Broad Street in Durham of $1,600 to pay for composting expenses in 2014, and another of $2,000 for this school year. We talked with Joe Kahn, owner of Oval Park Grille, and his wife, Emily, on why participating was important to them as a local business.

“Well, we’re parents. We’re concerned about the environment as well. The program really means a lot to us We compost as a household, and I'm excited to teach kids about the benefits of composting and its impact on local farmers while reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfill," Joe Kahn said.

"We discussed how necessary it is to get youngsters started early in a sustainability mindset, and how they connected with the program," Emily Kahn said.

"We got involved after I posted on the neighborhood listserv that the restaurant was trying to connect with a way to support E.K. Powe. A teacher in the neighborhood reached out to us and told us that the school was trying to get a compost program started but needed a sponsor. She put us in touch with Bobby Hartman, the PTA president at the time. After speaking to Bobby and Sue Scope about the program, we became the sponsor. “

The program has continued to do well this year. Parents helped staff the line for the first few weeks of school to get the kids back into it. They held a kickoff assembly at the beginning of the year to build the excitement and give out awards at the end of the year for recognition.

To start this school year, they again had trays paid for by Durham Public Schools and benefited from Oval Park Grille's donation. Hartman no longer has kids at the school but stays involved, Susan Budziszewski, another involved parent, is leading the program efforts this year.

The compost itself is handled by Brooks Compost in Goldston, which takes the bins and does high heat composting.

Now, the school is focusing on a blossoming community project known as the The Peace Garden.


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