June 23, 2010
Homer students recycle cafeteria waste
HOMER — Lunchtime Monday at Homer Intermediate School was pandemonium as students were excited on the last day of school, and it was also the last day of the year for an extensive recycling program that sharply reduces the amount of waste.
Since May 14, students at the school, which serves grades three through six, have been sorting through their uneaten lunches and depositing food waste into various trash bins. The 304 pounds of food waste is later collected by Larry Jones, who owns Little York Farms LLC, in Homer, who turns it into compost. The remaining 17 pounds of waste is sent to a landfill.
Jones does not charge the school district to take the food waste. Once the waste turns into compost, Jones sells it as fertilizer to individuals to be used in gardens. The waste collected from Homer Intermediate School has not been used yet in his fertilizer business, because it takes about six months for the food waste to properly decompose, said Jones. Fertilizer to cover an area of about a yard sells for about $12, said Jones.
The profits from the sold fertilizer are not shared with Homer Central School District, said Jones. The waste collected from the school district make up about 10 percent of Jones’ operation.
Jones contacted the district in 2008 with his idea to start a food waste program in Homer Central School District. He volunteered a space on his farm the school could use for food waste collection.
“I think it’s a phenomenal program,” Jones said. “Homer should be proud.”
Since implementing the program, Homer Intermediate School in May and the Homer Junior High School in June, daily amount of cafeteria waste collected at the two schools was reduced from 321 pounds to 17 pounds, said Updike.
The weight is calculated by adding the trash collected from the intermediate school and Homer Junior High School lunch periods, which is then weighed on a nurse’s scale. The two schools share the same cafeteria and the total weights are combined.
The district hopes to save $1,550 next year by using the program.
Monday, during lunchtime, at the intermediate school, there are separate bins for liquids, milk cartons, recyclables, trash and food waste.
In November 2009, Dryden Elementary School was named the winner of the 2009 New York Recycles Challenge for its recycling program, a similar food waste program which served as a model for the food waste program at Homer Intermediate School.
Jon Kirkwyland, a fourth-grade teacher at Homer Intermediate School, who also lives in Dryden, said he thought a similar program would be a good fit at his school.
“It’s a good program,” said Kirkwyland, who spearheaded the program with Updike at Homer Intermediate School. “We teach students not to take things if they don’t need them.”
Unknown to Kirkwyland, the cafeteria staff was already donating wasted food to Jones since December 2008. This generated about 2,000 pounds from December 2008 to June 2009.
Kirkwyland organized the efforts and made it a schoolwide effort. The district plans to implement the program in every school in the district.
“”I think it’s critical that we’re teaching our children valuable skills that will help them become better citizens,” said Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison.
Students are instructed not to take food they think they will not eat during the 30-minute lunch period. Students are told to take utensils only if they need it, said Kirkwyland, adding a student who wants a napkin is told to only take one.
“At a young age, this is a fantastic thing (food waste recycling) for kids to learn,” said Evelyn Sammons, the interim principal at Homer Intermediate School while Stephanie Falls, the Homer Intermediate School principal is on maternity leave.
Lunch ambassadors are students who supervise the food waste program during lunch time. After lunch, while students are discarding trash, the ambassadors stand near each individual bin and instruct students to put certain items from their lunches into certain bins.
Justin Dewinne, Kaelyn Burda and Kareem Mehdi, all students in Kirkwyland’s fourth-grade class, are lunch ambassadors. The lunch ambassadors are selected by Kirkwyland for their exemplary grades, social skills and environmental consciousness, Kirkwyland said.
“I like it because you get to dig through the trash,” Burda said.
The lunch ambassadors, all students, wear yellow gloves and are trained to enforce the food waste rules, said Kirkwyland. Teachers explain into which bins various items should be placed.
“I like telling people where they can put the food,” Dewinne said.
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