A group of fifth-graders erupted as a trash can was overturned and the wet garbage slid out onto the ground on Friday.
“If you’re going to throw up, throw up in the organics container!” Joe Richardson declared, laughing with students during Urbana Elementary School’s first composting separation and weigh-in, held at Sugarloaf Elementary School. Students and teachers separated trash into recycle, liquid, compost and trash bins after lunch and took base weights that will ultimately be used to show the impact composting has on the amount of waste taken to landfills and the amount of food wasted.
Urbana Elementary will become the first elementary school in Frederick County to compost food waste from lunch periods this month, following Urbana High School’s lead after it launched a composting initiative in 2017.
Richardson, who serves on the Frederick Compost Workgroup, believes getting young students thinking about composting will cause a ripple effect throughout schools, the Urbana community and, hopefully, the entire county.
To start, “I want to do Urbana elementary, middle, high,” Richardson said. “There’s some resistance, saying it’s too expensive. But if we can prove we are reducing trash ... we can show this is cost-neutral.”
The composting project first aims to teach students about different types of waste and the associated environmental impacts. Students involved in Friday’s sorting will monitor bins to help other students learn about the proper way to dispose of their waste when composting goes schoolwide on Jan. 14.
Katie Romans, a fifth-grader and HAWK (Helping All With Kindness) club member, said she’s learned how to properly dispose of specific trash items from Frederick Compost Workgroup volunteers and her teachers.
“We want to help and do it for our school so all other schools in the county will start doing this,” Katie said. “We learned the fruit and all of the food usually goes into the compost bin and everything recyclable that didn’t crinkle goes into the recycling bin. And you probably didn’t know that plastic bags go into recycling.”
Funding for the Urbana Elementary composting project comes from the Southern Frederick County Rotary Club, which donated $1,800. In the future, however, Richardson said he believes composting at schools will reduce the need for traditional trash dumpsters, offsetting the cost of adding bins and hauling the compost.
Richardson also suggested parents use reusable bento boxes instead of plastic bags, and to have conversations with their children about how much food they are actually eating.
“Parents don’t realize how much food is being wasted,” Richardson said. “They fight with their kids at dinnertime, they fight with their kids at breakfast. But they don’t fight with their kids at lunchtime, because they don’t see it.”
Next, students will have assemblies on composting and HAWK club students will hang posters to educate fellow students on how to sort their own trash. The trash will be weighed and sorted again two more times this year.
“Hopefully, we will have more of our elementary schools get on board,” said Heather Van Eck, a math specialist at Urbana Elementary and HAWK club facilitator. “They’ll do a weigh-in a few times a year to see what’s happening with the trash and how much is being not appropriately composted or recycled. There is so much wasted in a school day, so hopefully this helps composting catch on at other schools.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated funding was provided by the Frederick Rotary Club. Funding was provided by the Southern Frederick County Rotary Club.