When a recent New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/01/headway/composting-food-leftovers.html) described efforts in Ohio to reduce food waste, staff at WeFutureCycle Inc (501c3) smiled in recognition. The work the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) is doing sounds important and very familiar! Yes, Americans throw away 80 billion pounds of food every year. Yes, it does create untenable amounts of methane when sent to landfills, or horrible smoke pollution when burned in an incinerator, AND takes up more space in US landfills than anything else! Yes, it can be put to much better use! And significantly, children, such as the ones highlighted in the article, can make enormous differences to the amount of food wasted in their communities.
Students in the White Plains City School District work every day to keep food waste out of the incinerator (Westchester County trash is burned in Peekskill). School staff, including lunch monitors and custodians, as well as We Future Cycle representatives, train & assist each child to sort their lunch waste & leftovers into different bins for each material, including food & paper for compost. Schools that sort are able to divert between 90 and 98% of their waste AWAY from the incinerator! Much of this waste is food, napkins & compostable trays. These items are sent to Ulster County for composting, and in 90 days, instead of pizza crusts, uneaten apple slices, and dirty napkins, we have rich, healthy soil that can be used to grow new things. Additionally, burning less at the incinerator means less pollution from the smoke. While in 2018 the EPA estimates that about 4.1% of wasted food was composted (2.6 million tons), in White Plains schools, almost 100% is composted.
Just like children at Horizon Elementary in Ohio, White Plains children are learning about their significant role in protecting our environment and reducing waste by recycling & composting, every school day, from Kindergarten through senior year. They’re developing habits that will serve them and their Earth throughout their lives. They’re even sharing what they know when they get home – one mom told us her daughter won’t let her buy (non-recyclable) juice pouches anymore, and they now opt for recyclable juice boxes instead. Another parent shared that her daughter is encouraging them to compost instead of putting food scraps in the trash.
By starting children young the hope is that these habits become ingrained. Community by community, school district by school district, groups like SWACO and We Future Cycle are creating a generation of children who are educated about recycling, who understand the impact one person can make, and most importantly, who CARE!