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Conservation Commission hoping to expand composting at Greenwich schools

March 31, 2017 GMT

GREENWICH — Mia Madeiros and Jack Magill, cafeteria rangers on detail at the Hamilton Avenue Elementary School, walked around their lunchroom keeping their eyes on their fellow student’s trays.

“The cafeteria ranger job is to watch for people to come over to the trash,” said Jack. “Everything that can’t be composted or recycled goes to the trash.”

“Once someone put garlic bread in (the compost bin),” Mia said while helping a fellow student shake her plate off into the garbage bin, “I just took it out and put it in the trash.”

In late October, Hamilton Avenue integrated a composting program as a way to help cut waste and teach children healthy habits.

On Oct. 21, when the students had pizza nuggets and chicken for lunch, students and teachers weighed the trash. They began a formal composting program Oct. 24.

On Jan. 21, school volunteers measured the trash to see how well the program was working.

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“We reduced our waste by 45 percent,” Cathy Byrne, Hamilton Avenue STEM instructional coach, said. “We had pizza and chicken nuggets like the first waste study, and we weighed just what was going into the trash bin—not recycling or compost.”

Hamilton Avenue is one of a number of schools in town that have added composting to their daily routines with help from Conservation Commission Environmental Analyst Aleksandra Moch.

Riverside School and Eastern and Central middle schools compost and there are plans to add Old Greenwich, North Mianus, Dundee, Greenwich High and Western Middle schools to the list.

For Hamilton Avenue, the program has been a success in getting students involved school wide, including those who might not have been engaged before.

“We had tons of students who came and did the weigh-in, we had kids who got data for the chart. This is really student driven. Students are really in charge of the program,” Byrne said.

Added principal Cindy Rigling, “The cool thing is that every student gets to be a ranger. It’s a real reward for them ... We are taking a risk trying something for the first time, being healthy risk-takers for the kids. It involves problem-solving, real world problems, environmental issues, people not having enough food to eat.”

Moch said the success of Hamilton Avenue’s program is encouraging.

Moch met with Old Greenwich School earlier in March to discuss a plan to start a composting program and is working on getting more programs ready for International Composting Week, which begins May 7.

“We are hoping this will infiltrate in the community,” Moch said. “We want parents to learn from their kids. They can save instead of bringing organic things to the dump.”

But while the program is being embraced at the lower grade levels, moving to Greenwich High School may be harder, she said.

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Custodians normally handle lunch cleanup, but trash-sorting can add to their duties if the system doesn’t delegate anyone to the task. The elementary schools that compost do so with the help of students and the support of custodial staff.

Approaching the schools not involved in the program means figuring out a way to take the burden off the custodians.

Enter Kim Gillick, a GHS health teacher interested in bringing composting to the school and hoping to find a school club willing to take charge.

“We have a lot of trash,” Gillick said. “(Composting) would be just for fruits and vegetables, but we don’t know how much waste we are going to have.”

She walked the perimeter of the Student Center two weeks ago to gather an idea of what kind of mess program organizers would be facing. By the end of the last lunch wave that day, three large, gray garbage bins on wheels were overflowing with trash bags.

They sat by a pillar in front of Bella and Clark house while students chatted at tables over empty lunch and snack packages.

Three or four custodians stood in the center of the room before splitting up to roll their bins over to the tables so students could dispose of their waste properly — without getting up.

The change-over would definitely take some long-range planning. And food trash is just one concern, Gillick said. She also worried about discarded water bottles.

“(They) are a huge problem.” she said. “We have this fountain here where students can refill their water bottles, and it tells you how many bottles have been saved.

”I almost wish we had the machines like in the grocery store to put (waste water bottles) in,” she said.

E: jturiano@greenwichtime.com; T: @jturianoGT; IG @greenwichgreen