Composting Comes to Campus
In the school’s latest sustainability effort, all food waste will now be composted, rather than shipped off to a landfill. While this was already something Sustainability Director Katy Perry was planning on implementing, the recent issues with garbage disposal in the state created even more incentive to make it happen.
“Connecticut is in a waste crisis,” Perry explains. “Since the closing of the MIRA plant in Hartford last July, 40 percent of the waste generated in Connecticut is shipped in trucks to be landfilled in other states. The other 60 percent is incinerated in outdated and dirty facilities that add to air pollution. As other incineration plants become obsolete, waste disposal costs in Connecticut will continue to rise and tip the economics in favor of organic recycling.”
In the case of Avon Old Farms School, food waste makes up about one third our total waste by weight. Now, that third of waste will be instead collected by Blue Earth Compost, Inc. and brought to Quantum Biopower in Southington where the organic material will be composted and used to generate electricity.
This is the same service currently being used by other schools and similar organizations including Miss Porter’s School, Westminster School, and Choate Rosemary Hall, among others. “We’ve seen our peer schools have a lot of success with this program,” Perry says.
Perry adds that as the waste issue in the state continues to worsen, it is likely there will be mandates for composting and similar practices in the near future, so this is a proactive step. It also opens up the opportunity to reduce the cost to dispose of waste due to the fact that our garbage used to be priced by weight, while Blue Earth prices based on volume.
This creates an added incentive for individuals to reduce their waste, which is part of the other reason the school began this service—doing the right thing for the environment. “Food waste recycling is a key tool in the global fight against climate change. The environmental benefits of compost include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions at landfills, reducing air pollution and toxic ash from incinerators, capturing carbon from food to be returned to the soil, reducing methane gas emissions from landfills, and increasing the fertility and resilience of our soil,” Perry says.
She adds that managing our waste stream in a responsible manner is also consistent with the school mission. “By doing our part, Avon demonstrates to its students the importance of sustainability and the moral responsibility we have to the greater global community. It is in line with producing good men of strong moral character.”
For the students, it’s a way to visualize the amount of food waste taking place each meal and to try and improve on that. They now have to dispose of their leftover food and napkins in designated blue bins. Otherwise, there is no other change for students and staff. For the individuals that work in the kitchen, it means no more lifting and hauling of heavy food waste in garbage bags to the dumpster.
Less manual labor wasn’t the main reason that Director of Food Services Hector Vazquez gave his approval for the program. “We all have things we can do for the environment, and for us that’s reducing waste.”
He says that most other materials used in the Refectory get recycled and that this was a missing piece. “This shouldn’t be the end either. We’ll keep looking for more ways to recycle.”
Mike Cohen, who just celebrated his 30th anniversary working in the Refectory, says he is pleased with how the students have reacted to the new initiative. “It’s going great. Even without supervision, the kids are sticking to it.”
By composting food waste with Blue Earth, Avon Old Farms will divert about 8,000 pounds (4 tons) of food from the incinerator each month while school is in session (about 36 tons per school year). Perry says now that composting is in place, the Environmental Club will kick off the 2023-2024 school year with a food waste education campaign to teach new community members about the program and to encourage everyone to do their part to reduce the amount of food that is wasted.
Ted Kim ’23 is the head of the Environmental Club. He says he is very grateful the composting program has launched. “Being an all-boys school that fosters exceptional athletes, we recognized that food waste was a crucial environmental concern that needed to be addressed. I am pleased to see how students and faculty members are proactively taking measures to not only reduce food waste but also compost it on our campus. This initiative is a significant step towards creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly environment, and I am proud to be a part of it.”