School Committee Receptive to Reducing Food Waste in Schools

The first slide in Mothers Out Front’s recent presentation to the Bedford School Committee – Courtesy image (c) Mothers Out Front, 2018 all rights reserved

By Carolyn Weaver, Bedford Mothers Out Front

McAllister reports his Belmont School is already Recycling and Composting

On Oct 2, 2018, three members of Bedford Mothers Out Front spoke to the School Committee on the topic of reducing food waste in school lunchrooms. Mothers Out Front is a non-profit organization that works to make climate change an issue our leaders can no longer ignore for the sake of all children. Surprisingly, food waste is the third largest contributor to global warming, according to Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown, a book listing 100 scientifically proven ways to reverse climate change.

Click this link to view the presentation that Mothers Out Front made to the School Committee.

Carolyn Weaver began the presentation by briefly explaining that when kids are forced to throw uneaten food into trash barrels, we are wasting more than just the food on their trays. We are squandering all the resources it took to grow, harvest, process, and transport the food. As Weaver said, “Food waste is also a waste of water, land, energy, labor and transportation costs. Basically, a portion of the expenses involved in processing food from farm to table are lost when food is tossed.” In addition, when food waste is sent to an incinerator, as is our Bedford trash, it leads to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that we can easily divert.

Renae Nichols showed examples of other schools in our area that have successfully made changes to their lunchroom practices – some using a “Tip Bucket” for liquid waste, others using recycling bins, and others offering composting bins to collect unwanted food. On National Recycling day in 2017, Lane School students were excited to be able to pour leftover liquids into a bucket and recycle the empty containers. Students made comments such as, “This is how we do it at home!” and “Will we be able to do this every day?” Most kids learn to recycle and compost at home. It makes sense to set a good example and do the same at school. Reducing the amount of food that ends up in trash barrels results in far fewer bags of trash, less mess, lower costs to the town due to the lighter weight of the trash, and reduced carbon emissions that will help to save our climate.

Mothers Out Front asked for the School Committee’s support in implementing food waste reduction strategies in all Bedford schools in 2019. Many simple strategies can be implemented right away with minimal cost and can save the town money in the long run. We recommend a pilot program at one school in two phases: the first phase is to divert liquids from the trash beginning in January 2019; and the second phase is to add composting organic matter, beginning at the end of February. If the pilot program works well, we would like to continue through the school year and consider adding other schools.

To support this effort, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection provides grants to communities that are willing to commit to implementing long-term changes. Town administrators must sign on, indicating their commitment to the long term. Not only is it possible to save money, but Bedford schools can also help to educate children about sustainability and reduce our collective carbon emissions.

In addition, Mothers Out Front members Nichols and Christine Rabinowitz have met with DPW officials in hopes of gathering data on trash disposal costs for the schools. While data for schools is not itemized separately, they were pleased to learn that DPW Director, David Manugian and Recycling Coordinator, Ed McGrath, are considering alternatives to our existing trash pickup, since the costs are increasing across the state. They are also interested in composting food waste in all municipal buildings, including schools. Rabinowitz suggested using a composting company, such as Black Earth Composting, to begin residential pick up as well. Recognizing that changes often don’t come easily, Mothers Out Front asked the School Committee to support their efforts by encouraging schools to participate in this pilot program, by fostering communications between the administrators, DPW and Mothers Out Front, and by creating accountability as steps to initiate the pilot programs begin.

Overall, the School Committee was very receptive to the presentation, with the most substantive advice offered by Michael McAllister, principal of a middle school in Belmont that is already recycling and composting. He pointed out that implementing recycling and composting programs at his school took several years to accomplish and we need to be aware that there are many steps involved in getting everyone on board. Members of Mothers Out Front plan on meeting with School Superintendent Jon Sills to continue the discussion, consider options and begin collaboration with school administration to determine where to begin. The committee wholeheartedly supported the idea of reducing food waste in the lunchrooms and will support Mothers Out Front in taking next steps to implement a pilot program. The Town of Bedford is very fortunate to have such a caring and thoughtful school committee, dedicated to the future of our children and to the future of our climate.

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