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Composting Burlington Public Schools Food Waste

Stemming from a student initiated conversation prior to the pandemic, the Burlington High School activist club Students for Environmental Action approached school administration about exploring compostable lunch trays and reducing the waste they were seeing in the BHS cafeteria every day. 

With Burlington Public Schools considering management changes to the food service, the School Committee recently started the conversation on composting in BPS cafeterias. Superintendent Eric Conti cited education as a key part of moving a composting program forward. 

“Learning the materials that can be composted, training the students to separate those items and reduce the amount of compost going into the waste stream leaving our cafeterias,” said Conti. “There is a cost to this but we believe the greater cost of reducing the waste stream is an important thing for us to pursue.”

School Committee member Martha Simon spoke to the logistics of composting in the cafeterias. 

“It needs a huge amount of education with students on what goes into compost. We need to be doing it with proper signage,” Simon continued. “I believe from speaking with other school districts that we need to have somebody monitoring it, which is not a small feat”.

Simon also noted they will not be composting on site, but using curbside pick up for the food waste which also takes weight out of the waste stream and possibly saves the town money in tipping fees. 

Along with providing educational resources to help with the practice of composting, Wendy Pavlicheck of the Burlington Science Center teaches composting. Students could help each other learn how to do it correctly particularly at the elementary level. 

BPS Director of Operations Bob Cunha mentioned that along with legislative changes requiring restaurants that produce a certain amount of food waste to compost, it may be required of Burlington Schools in the future.  

“Although the conversation right now is about composting. Governor Baker’s direction would be to reduce organic waste with an organic waste reduction plan. Whether we choose to compost or pay for a service, ultimately to reduce the organic waste that goes into our solid trash is first and foremost,” explained Cunha. 

The discussion was continued to further examine the overall cost and impact to cafeteria workers before moving forward and educating students.