The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans produce approximately one pound of food waste every day; this is equal to approximately four McDonald’s Quarter Pounders. Food scraps are the number one item found in landfills, and with such a large percentage of that waste being biodegradable, extremely high levels of methane gas and carbon dioxide are released, trapping heat in our atmosphere and contributing to global warming.
Every single day, the Suffield Academy kitchen provides three meals for around five hundred people. Although the kitchen staff makes an approximation as to how much food should be purchased, prepared, and served for students, faculty and staff, food waste has consistently been an ever-present issue. Fortunately, over the past few years members of the Suffield Academy community, including our kitchen staff, administrative directors, and students, have collaborated on a variety of ideas to counter the amount of food waste the school produces. Their solutions range from decreasing the amount of food prepared and served to an efficient composting system.
Before COVID-19, teachers and students gathered for lunch for four days a week in a traditional family-style manner. During lunch, a tray with the main course of that day’s lunch was brought to the table by the student waiter. On some days, not a crumb would remain on the tray, but on others, most of the food would remain untouched. Mason Kumiega ’21 observed how wasteful the current system was, and approached Suffield’s Director of Food Services, Sean Hennessey, inquiring how the current food disposal system could be improved to minimize food waste. They collaborated with other members of the school community, sent out surveys to students, and created a new system in which the student waiter would ask the table if they would want a half tray of food, a full tray of food, or no tray at all. This innovative idea drastically decreased the amount of food waste produced during lunch, and Suffield Academy plans to continue to use this system in the future.
In 2019, Suffield Academy adopted an effective large-scale composting initiative. Mr. Hennessey reached out to Blue Earth Compost, an organization based in Hartford, which transforms residents’ and commercial business’ food scraps into an organic, soil-enriching fertilizer. Their goal is to make composting an easy and accessible task for families and communities all over Connecticut. They have taken careful consideration to ensure that the entire process is clean and efficient. At the Academy, Mason and Mr. Hennessey developed a system in which students can dispose of their food waste into green compost buckets placed on every table during lunch. Blue Earth Compost then picks up Suffield Academy’s food scraps biweekly and transforms it into compost. As Mason puts it, “The waste is not ending up in a landfill, and it is instead being returned to the earth from which it came.” After four months of implementing this composting initiative, Mr. Hennessey estimates that the school diverted around 24,000 pounds of waste from landfills, and this number is still increasing as we continue to make an active effort to minimize the amount of food waste generated.
The main goal for Suffield Academy is to make sure that students, faculty, and staff are aware of exactly how much waste they are producing, and how they can minimize it. At home, people can separate trash and food scraps so they can be properly disposed of, either in the garbage or in an at-home composting system. Composting at home does not have to be a complicated process. You should set aside a simple bin to store fruits and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, stale bread, eggshells, etc. An important part of this process is that food scraps alone will not produce compost. You need a balance of greens, like the kitchen waste listed above, and browns, carbon-rich materials like newspaper, dried grass, or cardboard. The easiest way to compost food waste is outdoors, buried into the ground, with layers of the “green” and “brown” materials. Another way to compost is to purchase a compost tumbler, a sealed container stored outside in your yard which can be rotated to mix materials every few days.
If you do not have a large outdoor space, composting inside is inexpensive and easy to maintain by using a worm composting bin. Take two, any-size storage bins and drill holes on the sides of one and holes on the bottom and sides of the other. Stack the bin with holes on the sides and bottom on top of the bin with holes only on the sides. First place your bedding, shredded newspaper or leaves, in the top bin and spray with some water to create a moist environment for the worms. Soil can also be added for nutrients. Decomposed material can be used in your yard or garden to improve flower and vegetable cultivation. Add worms, which can be purchased at a bait and tackle store, and any kitchen scraps. Continue to add kitchen scraps either every few days or even just once a week. Lastly, layer with more bedding, spray with water, and cover the top bin with a lid. It is very important to keep your worm bin in an area with moderate temperatures, so an inside space like underneath the sink is recommended. After a few months, brown, earthy material can be found at the bottom of the bin, ready to use in a garden.
Composting is just one of the many steps which can be taken toward living a more sustainable lifestyle.