Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system creates composting program

Posted September 23, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2015 11:18 a.m. EDT

— Many school systems recycle paper, glass and aluminum in the cafeteria. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is making sure even the food gets a second life. All elementary and middle schools in the district started composting this school year.

School district sustainability director Dan Schnitzer says this is a big change from simply trashing everything at the end of lunch.

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

School 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. The compost goes back to local farmers and gardeners, and some will 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.

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.