Tracing our compost from bin to soil

The end of every lunch period is cluttered with two types of students––those frantically trying to sort their waste into the correct bags, and those just dumping their gatorades,chicken balls, and chips into the first bin they see. BSM has a plethora of waste bins all with different purposes: trash, recycling, and last but not least––compost, or organics. BSM has done a great job encouraging students take their time to sort their leftovers into the corresponding bins, but has done very little to let students know how their efforts are making a difference. As a graduating senior, previous Environmental Club member, and self-proclaimed tree lover, I still don’t know where our compost goes. I decided to embark on a mission to see if I could indeed trace the journey of my discarded apple core to its final destination.

The trash bins go to a landfill, or a garbage collection center to be burnt for warmth. The recycling goes to a sorting center to be categorized and redistributed, but where do our organics go? I thought for a long time and was eventually able to brainstorm several possibilities for our compost. One, they are converted into fertile soil and being used on site at BSM. Two, they are shipped off to a facility and are used in some sort of eco, green, environmentally friendly way. Three, my greatest fear, was that it was simply being once again mixed in with the trash to decompose on its own in a landfill.

I had admittedly forgotten about my quest, until during my lunch hour I happened to watch the custodial staff throw a full organics bag into a large green dumpster. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that brainstorm number three had been correct, and in fact our compost was simply being tossed out with the trash. Mortified, I decided I needed to wait until after school and check to see which company owned the dumpster, and where its contents would end up.

I nonchalantly walked up to the giant green holder after school and was pleasantly surprised. The bin was thankfully an organics only dumpster, and it was owned by Waste Management (WM). I recorded the phone number listed on the side and planned to call them later that evening.

Once home, I perused WM’s website and  was able to navigate to a tab that listed the company’s mission towards greener initiatives, and their options for clients wanting to compost and sort their organics. Although happy that WM’s organics in general were being sorted and used in an environmentally responsible way, I still needed to know where my apple core was going. I took out my phone and dialed the number.

I have to preface this next part by saying WM has the nicest and most involved customer service representatives I’ve ever come across. After explaining my quest to the friendly woman on the phone, she jumped right in and was able to inform me about how the compost would be processed, and using BSM’s zip code she was even able to tell me that our organics would most likely be processed at the Maple Grove Transfer Center just north of BSM.

Using our own organics would reduce money spent on soil, provide an educational experience, and show first hand the benefits and impacts our composting makes. ”

— Gunnar Lundberg

One of my initial brainstorms had been correct, and thankfully it wasn’t option three. The Maple Grove Transfer Center uses the organics to harness efficient gasses that provide a cleaner energy. The excess biomaterial is then used to create fertile soil. BSM’s apple cores, fruit peels, and discarded veggies that come with Taher mac and cheese, are being used resourcefully to help reduce waste and provide cleaner energies. However, as big of a fan as I am about any greener option, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that using our own organics on campus could make the importance of composting all the more evident to our students.

It’s my suggestion and firm belief that BSM should try to implement some level of composting completely and solely on campus. Using our own organics would reduce money spent on soil, provide an educational experience, and show first hand the benefits and impacts our composting makes. Students would not only know the long line of things that can be composted, but how composting has positive effects o n the environment.

Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting BSM handle all of their composting, because with three lunch periods, five days a week, 36 weeks a year, it would require a separate building to process and store all of that compost. However, a small compost barrel that costs $150 on would allow students to see how our compost decomposes and can be used as fertilizer. That fertilizer would in no way be substantial enough to feed an entire field, but it could make an impact in small gardens across campus, for example the new garden by Beth El started by BSM’s junior high.

Composting, and being green in general, has become an increasingly important part of our society, and BSM does a good job, but it could do better. By composting our own waste on a small scale, BSM could teach students how to make a positive impact on the environment, as opposed to simply shipping it off to a facility to handle all the dirty work (no pun intended). Shipping off the waste to be processed still uses fossil fuels––like running the garbage truck that transports them.

Being a green school means more than responsibly handling the generated waste. To truly be a green school, you need to show students the impacts their sorting at lunch makes, and take the extra time to make sure that they’re sorting correctly. I was able to trace my apple core to an organics waste facility in Maple Grove, but imagine if instead I traced it right back to BSM. Granted, it wouldn’t have made as interesting a story, but at least I’d see my impact everyday I came to school.