Monument Elementary Kicks Off Composting Program

BENNINGTON  BANNER, 02/24/2015, by Derek Carson

Photo: Athena Lee Bradley, of Northeast Recycling Council, at Monument Elementary

Monument Elementary School kicked off a new composting program on Tuesday, with help from the Northeast Recycling Council and TAM Waste Management. Athena Lee Bradley, projects manager at the Brattleboro-based Northeast Recycling Council, has worked with four Bennington area schools to implement composting programs, after her organization received a grant from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Those schools, Arlington Memorial High/Middle School, Fisher Elementary in Arlington, Flood Brook School in Londonderry, and Monument, will have a leg up on other schools, who will have to comply with the ban on food scraps from Vermont landfills as put forth in Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling Act.

For those unfamiliar with the timeline of Act 148’s implementation, food scrap generators who generate more than 52 tons a year have to divert that scrap to a local certified facility by this July. By July 2016, generators of 26 tons a year or more will have to have taken these steps, followed by generators of 18 tons a year or more in July 2017, and all food scraps by July 2020. The nearest certified facility to Bennington is TAM.

Bradley, along with Matthew Proft of TAM, explained to the students how the new composting program will work. “We’re going to take those food scraps you don’t eat,” said Bradley, “and we send them over to Matt’s place, and we’ll turn them into soil, for nice things like gardens.”Bradley walked students through a lunch tray full of waste, asking whether each item would be compost or trash. While kids were hesitant to answer at first, when they things they had always thought of as trash, suchas orange and banana peels, were actually compostable, but they picked up on the system quickly, and were answering confidently by the end of the tray.

“In the old days,” Proft told the students, “we’d take it all up to a landfill, and dump it in the earth, and cover it with other trash. Now, we’ll have a big tote outside, where we’ll collect all your food scraps from lunch.” Then, he said, once per week, a truck from TAM will empty the tote and take it back to their facilities, where it will be mixed with other organic waste, such as leaves. Soil created through this process is then used in growing more food, he said, creating a continuous cycle.

Bradley later clarified that even meat products are able to composted by TAM, “It’s not like a backyard operation, it gets up over 150 degrees for weeks.”

Monument also recently implemented a recycling program in their classrooms, and will now have student compost monitors at lunches who will, along with school custodian Gary Kinney, help their fellow students until they get the hang of what is compostable and what isn’t. Bradley said that between 50-60 percent of the waste produced by schools is in the form of food waste, and Act 148 will go a long way towards limiting the need for landfills in the state. “I know people aren’t in favor of mandates,” she said, “but there are reasons behind it. It’s good for the environment, and no one wants to live next to a landfill.”

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or dcarson@ benningtonbanner.com or @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter.