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Wornall Campus Begins Composting Program
Beth Bryant

What seemed a lofty goal is actually becoming reality in the Wornall Campus Dining Hall: practically all of the dining program’s food waste is being composted!

The program, which launched as the school celebrates Earth Day, is a collaborative effort with FLIK Independent School Dining; Michael Jones, fourth grade teacher; Lower School Young Leaders; James Miller, chief financial officer; and Missouri Organic Recycling.

The idea for the extensive composting program was born out of a couple activities.  Two years ago, all fourth grade classes embarked on a unit in which they analyzed and tracked the amount of food being wasted during their lunch period in the Wornall Campus Dining Hall for four weeks. This year, all third and forth grade classes participated in the same experience for the same amount of time.  “The children weighed their waste and logged that information on charts,” Michael explained.  “This year, on average, all six classrooms were throwing away about 30-40 pounds per week. When I imagined what the entire lower school could be wasting each week, it was quite eye-opening.”

The results provided for meaningful discussions, Michael said.  “It gave us an opportunity to talk about the reasons for so much waste, and what children could do to reduce the amount thrown away.” 

He continued, “We talked about asking for smaller portions and taking only what they can eat and then getting seconds.  It also led to a discussion on time management - if students spend all their time talking to their tablemates, they won’t have time to finish their lunches.”

“Michael’s project with his students inspired me to take another look at composting,” James said, “and after a conversation with Pamela Robb, early childhood principal, I reached out to Missouri Organic Recycling to learn more about their composting operations.”

Together, James and Joe Kilishek, Pembroke Hill’s dining services director, began exploring possibilities and then involved Michael. The program started taking shape.  “Joe and his team have been involved in the project's design and implementation,” James said.  “They’ve been a supportive partner, and we couldn't do it without them.” 

Composting capabilities have grown substantially in recent years, including compostable serving containers, and a reasonably-priced service that can pick up the products for composting. Previously, items such as meat scraps, bones and portion-controlled cups had to be separated to avoid tainting the compost.  “With Missouri Organic Recycling's volume, they can accept everything served to students in our dining hall with the exception of cracker wrappers, saran wrap and portion-control cups.”

Because of these restrictions, a few changes have been made.  Crackers are no longer purchased in individual servings with wrappers.  Instead, they are placed in bulk on trays with tongs.  Plastic containers, used for peanut butter, sun butter and jelly, have been replaced with small clear, compostable cups that are made of corn.

Since liquids are heavy and increase the potential for leaks, milk cartons are drained in the dish room and sent separately for composting.  Pembroke Hill already provided reusable silverware, plates and bowls.  The limited number of non-compostable items made the implementation of a composting program quite simple.

All of the collected compostable waste is placed in decomposable bags that are picked up by Missouri Organic Recycling three days a week.

Educating the campus community was an important element to the successful launch of the composting program.  Lower School Young Leaders created a video and helped with student assemblies to explain the logistics of the program. 

James anticipates the composting initiative will grow and expand to the Ward Parkway Campus next year.  “We wanted to start with only one campus and refine our process,” he said.  “In time, we plan to collect paper towels from restrooms as well.”

Michael added, “Since the composting program began on Monday, April 15, several teachers have commented on the possibility of expanding the composting program to classroom snacks and outside trashcans.  My eyes are truly opening to the potential reach this has for our whole campus and school community, not just the Dining Hall.”

Missouri Organic Recycling composts the waste into soil. Pembroke Hill has already used the new soil to top off existing planting beds in which Michael and students are growing vegetables and herbs on two sides of Deramus Fieldhouse.  “This is a wonderful opportunity for students to experience the full circle of recycling,” Michael explained.  “They learn how their food waste can be transformed into something that helps grow fresh food for our lunch program.”

Michael believes that, along with benefiting the environment, the composting program teaches children to be good stewards of their resources.  “We need to all understand the importance of using every part of what we are given and to limit the footprint that we leave on our world.”