City of Eugene Emphasis on Organics Recovery in Schools.
The Sustainable Disposal at Eugene Schools project arose from the City of Eugene’s Solid Waste and Recycling Program’s experience in developing a commercial composting demonstration site in 1998. As a result of an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality waste reduction grant, the City was able to purchase and install two in-vessel composter at a large grocery store in Eugene. The purpose of this site was to demonstrate the applicability of large scale composting to businesses within the City limits.
City staff recognized the benefits of decreased truck traffic to the store and County staff recognized the reduction in food discards deposited into the landfill they operate. These two community-wide benefits are extremely difficult to quantify as cost-savings. Because the equipment worked so well, however, staff pursued expanding this project into schools to take advantage of the educational benefits realized from an on-site composting installation. The City of Eugene sought funding from the EPA’s Sustainable Development Challenge Grant program and was notified of the grant award on April 20, 2000.
In-vessel composting is a relatively new technology. It blends the natural process of composting with modern technology to safely compost food discards in a totally enclosed unit. The Eugene schools project installed an in-vessel composter at six Eugene schools. With a capacity of up to 150 lbs of food discards each day, it was expected that the organic portion of each school discard flow would decrease to zero. Schools in Eugene pay for disposal based on the container size and frequency of collection required for that container. Reducing the amount of the waste stream could lead to changes in the trash container size and collection frequency required at each participating school. If used to capacity, it is expected that the project may be able to save the district as much as $10,000.00 annually on disposal, labor and soil amendment expenses.
The primary objective of this project was to document the operational expenses and the disposal and materials savings to each school as a result of operating this equipment.
All of the schools have either gardens, environmental clubs, or specialized studies in natural resources. This project will include students in the activities of source separation, transportation, processing, testing and ultimately utilizing a previously wasted resource. Much of the data that is collected to show the efficacy of this projects will be collected and analyzed by the students. The secondary objective of this project is to create a curriculum related to composting for each participating school in order to advance and enthuse students career and life skills.
Schools in Oregon are under enormous pressure to reduce costs due to the limited dollars available from capped property taxes. Most schools have established traditional paper recycling programs in and effort to reduce garbage collection and disposal expenses. Additional recycling programs for the collection of glass, tin and aluminum, paperboard and plastic containers have been implemented in some schools.
Compostable organic materials, while making up 10-15% of the waste stream across Lane County, are not typically recovered from school’s discard streams, primarily due to a lack pf processors of these materials. The relatively new technology known as “in-vessel” composting allows small generators of organic discards to effectively create compost on-site. As a result of this project, documented volumes of organic discards will be turned into a soil amendment for use on school grounds. This best practices manual will be made available for other school districts that want to pursue utilizing in-vessel composting as a way to further minimize disposal and landscape amendment expense, as well as integrating composting experience into an educational curriculum.
The majority of the funding for this project comes for the EPA through their $68,000 Sustainable Development Challenge Grant Program. Most of the EPA funds will be used to purchase and install Earth Tubs at each school. The City of Eugene will provide $30,000 to support the purchase of equipment and partner with the EPA to hire a Compost Specialist position that will ensure the educational goals of the project are met. Each of the six schools involved with the project pledge $1,000 to be used as in-kind support. This will primarily come from custodial staff time that will actually operate the equipment, once they have been loaded by the students.
Earth Tub Description
An Earth Tub is an in-vessel composting unit capable of composting non-green feedstocks such as cafeteria food discards. Air flow is controlled with a biofilter unit to eliminate odors, and leachate is controlled via PVC tubing and manual discharge. The cover of the Earth Tub spins to allow rotation of an auger. The vertical stainless steel auger, is powered by a 2 hp electric gear motor. The operator, pushing on one of three handles, rotates the auger around the inside of the Tub.
Six Earth Tubs, manufactured by Green Mountain Technologies, were purchased and placed at six participating schools. Each Earth Tub consists of double walled plastic with foam insulation (R-12). Each Tub weighs 300 pounds when empty and has a volume of 3.5 yards. Each Tub has the capacity to handle 100-150 pounds per day, with a total capacity of 4,000 pounds.
The Eugene school district contracts with a local hauler for garbage and recycling services for the whole district. The specific costs for each school can be determined by examining the size of the garbage container and the frequency of collection. Two of the participating schools reside outside of the City limits, and are not charged for garbage service.
Immediate benefits are seen at each school with the three yards of compost produced each time the Earth Tub is discharged. This amounts to at least 18 yards of compost the school district does not have to purchase for garden projects and tree planting. The project was a vehicle for educating and enthusing students about waste reduction. Environmentally, 11 tons of putrescible waste per year were kept out of the landfill. The school district to date has not negotiated for a reduction in their garbage contract to reflect the savings in the table above. City staff continue to work with the school district to realize these savings, and additional savings to be had by decreasing the size of garbage containers and reducing the frequency of collection.
Educational Opportunities – Composting Curriculum For Elementary and Middle Schools
Two composting curricula were created with the assistance of experienced 4J school teachers. Each teacher created a curriculum emphasizing composting and waste reduction activities specific to either elementary or middle school levels.
Provides lessons and ongoing activities that enable children to have an active part in reducing the amount of garbage that is filling up the landfill. This curricula covers multiple subjects from waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, to composting and vermicomposting. Activities and subjects included in this curricula: waste audit, reduction, reuse, recycling, landfill dynamics, soils, macro and micro- organisms, compost card game, vermicomposting, plant growth experiments, and music sheets that “sing the praises” of composting and waste reduction. The elementary curriculum is organized with separate sections for grades K-3 and 4-5. Each section incorporates science, math, writing, art, spelling, reading and creative problem solving. Benchmarks are stated to some activities to assist teachers in their efforts to satisfy educational objectives.
Middle School Curriculum
Provides science oriented lessons and ongoing activities around composting and vermicomposting. Activities, experiments and subject included in this curricula: waste audit, composting methods, microscopic identification of compost organisms, the compost food web, seed germination, plant growth trials, and water holding capacity of compost.
An educational “In-Service” teacher training was held the second year of the project to present the two curricula and assist educators who wished to incorporate composting and waste reduction methods within their classrooms. Educators interested in using the two curricula attended this one day workshop and learned how to use the curriculum specific to their grade level. Teachers appreciated the fact that the curriculum presented realistic goals and objectives listed for each activity. Teachers also appreciated the hands-on aspect of the training and the chance to go through some of the activities contained within each curriculum.
Early on the Earth Tub schools embraced an expanded compost education program within their schools.
- Howard Elementary, all 400 students were taught about Earth Tub composting, backyard composting, and vermicomposting.
- Patterson Elementary and Family School put the Earth Tub site on the school’s introductory tour for all new students. Teacher David Babcock developed and is currently using the Elementary School Curriculum. They have several worm bins in their classrooms. Several teachers have attended advanced training in composting and recycling. In the near future, the school plans to become a Green School.
- River Road Elementary diverts food waste to use in their school garden. They have a worm bin in all 14 classrooms. They plan to become a Green School.
- Churchill High School’s Rachel Carson Center worked with the University of Oregon’s School Garden Project and OSU Extension Master Gardener Compost Specialists to expand compost education within their program. They plan to become a Green School.
- Kennedy Middle School science students receive a compost presentation each year, actively participate in Earth Tub composting, as well participate in composting and gardening at the nearby community garden.
- Kelly Middle School science teacher Dustin Dawson wrote the Middle School Curricula, giving his students first hand experience with the curriculum and it’s author. Head custodian John Churchil designed the “cadillac” of cafeteria sorting carts.
- Monroe Middle School students divert 30 pounds of food waste each day, and donate their compost to the local community garden.
- Waste Audits were completed at each participating Earth Tub school to show students how to sort and collect organic discards and other recyclable materials such as aluminum cans, plastic drink containers, brown paper bags, paper and milk cartons. Many schools discovered that 25% of their waste stream, by weight, was food waste.
After the Waste Audit, Churchill High School found that 30% of their waste stream could be composted or recycled. They expanded their recycling program for cans, drink containers and paper, and reduced the amount of recyclables in their waste stream to 10%.
With the money redeemed from the aluminum cans, the recycling program buys pizza once a month for the custodians. Any remaining money supports the school recycling program.
Other Innovative Efforts
Patterson Elementary School Teacher David Babcock took an innovative approach to waste reduction gleaned at a Green School Summit Conference. It was discovered that Patterson students were taking extra food at lunch, ensuring they would have food left over to contribute to the Earth Tub program. Upon this discovery, David implemented the “Clean Plate” lunch program where students are encouraged to take only what they can eat. When they finish their meal, the clean plate students get their name added to a drawing at the end of the week for a free snack from the cafeteria. This reduced the amount of food being wasted, made the cafeteria cook much happier, and taught the students to be judicious about their food selection choices.
Three of the six Earth Tub schools wish to continue their recycling efforts beyond the Earth Tub program and plan to participate in the Oregon Green Schools Program.