Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, November 2018

Somerville City Hall and the school district have teamed up on a composting pilot program in four of the city’s kindergarten through eighth grade schools.

Officials hope the program, launched on Oct. 1, will reduce waste and contaminated recyclables, while educating students and their families about the benefits.

In the four schools, students now find four bins in the cafeteria: a bucket for draining liquids from bottles and juice boxes, two clear bins so students can see the difference between recycling and trash, and compost bins for leftover food and the compostable lunch trays.

Composting company Garbage to Garden is hauling the materials to Rocky Hill Farm in Saugus, and is working with school staff to hold assemblies and introduce the new process.

Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Somerville’s sustainability and environment director, said that the pilot is a three-way partnership. The city serves as the sustainability experts, the Department of Public Works handles most of the cleanup and removal of the refuse, and the school lunch aides and staff do some cleanup while addressing the educational component.

As the city monitors the results of the pilot and makes adjustments based on the results, School District Chief of Staff Jeff Curley said the district hopes to eventually expand the program across all of the district’s 10 schools.

Sellers-Garcia said the city does not yet have targets for waste reduction, but the city was planning in late October to weigh what’s coming out of the schools in each of the four bins and then set a baseline to analyze future results.

“Trash and recycling is all done here with the regular municipal pickup, so it’s hard for us to get an idea of how much waste our schools are even producing,” he said. “This program is an opportunity for us to finally get more school-specific data on tonnage so we can get some targets.”

Sellers-Garcia also credited Cambridge for instituting a similar program in its school system.

The program is partly funded by a $30,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection. The grant has also been used to purchase additional recycling equipment and educational materials to support standardization of single-stream recycling across the school district.

In a separate but related effort, Curley said the city’s sustainability office worked with each school in the district to identify a staff member to serve as the School Sustainability Champion to lead recycling efforts in his or her building. These stipended positions help spread the word about new sustainability efforts in the schools, like the composting pilot, and help inject sustainability education into the classroom curriculum and programming.

“We’ve worked on PowerPoints and lesson plans and, with the Sustainability Champions, they can raise those to their colleagues and share more of the educational pieces about why we care about making sustainability a top priority for Somerville,” he said.

For more information, contact Somerville Sustainability and Environment Director Oliver Sellers-Garcia at ogarcia@somervillema.gov.

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