The Ramona Unified School District has taken a leap forward in environmental sustainability, creating an innovative food waste prevention and composting program at the Ramona High School campus. The program utilizes the food waste from eight school campuses in various ways, including making rich soil in a six-hundred gallon composting Earth Tub, managed by high school students.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste, with only 3% being composted. It is estimated that food waste composes approximately 20% of landfills. When left there, this waste produces large amounts of methane gas as it decomposes, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
Faced with large amounts of food scraps, the Ramona Unified School District designed a multi-pronged food waste reduction program that included reducing waste from snacks and lunches, collecting edible uneaten food and donating to the hungry, feeding livestock in the animal husbandry program, and composting in the Earth Tub.
Although it took some time for students and food prep staff to get used to the new system of diverting food scraps and edible food from the trash to the different collection buckets, with a little training and some good signage, everyone got into the habit fairly quickly.
“All of the staff now take pride in knowing that the material that they used to throw away is now being used to feed people, animals and to make a wonderful compost for the school garden,” said Kati Harbour, Director of Food & Nutrition Services.
The students involved, dubbed the “Eco-Leaders,” collect the food tubs and take them to the Agricultural department or to the Earth Tub. The compost is used to enrich the school’s garden. The animal feed made from scraps is fed to the high school’s animals on its small farm.
“It’s awesome,” said Travils Mehaffie, the student manager of Ramona High School’s animal husbandry program. The food donation cuts down on the chicken feed bill by half, saving about $40 per month. “It helps so much.”
Ramona High School has received great recognition for its achievements as part of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. The school was applauded for its environmental stewardship, community connection and education on the importance of food recovery. Exposing students to composting and waste diversion allows them to not only gain technical and scientific skills required to maintain the process, but it also helps develop their sense of responsibility to the Earth and their community. In addition, composting diverts up to fifty pounds of food scraps per school day.
The next step for the school district is to focus on generating less waste in the first place. By tracking the amount and types of waste, the centralized kitchen and individual schools became aware of the amount of food that was being wasted daily. Each school has begun adjusting their menus and implementing share tables where students can leave out food they don’t want for other students to eat.
Michael Wonsidler, Waste Management Coordinator with the County of San Diego, describes the program as “a fully closed loop model we’d like to duplicate throughout the county.”
Schools and businesses that are interested in replicating a similar program are encouraged to contact the County of San Diego recycling hotline for more information at 877-713-2784.
Photos by Rich Flammer