On January 26th, Byron-Bergen Elementary School doubled down on their commitment to reducing food waste in landfills and instead producing clean soil for gardening and farming. This was done through a partnership with an earthworm named Lloyd and 1.8 million of his friends. Lloyd lives in a compost facility operated by Impact Earth, a non-for-profit organization out of Rochester which works with the community to repurpose food waste and paper products into nutrient-rich soil. The composting program is a school-wide effort under the leadership of the third-grade students.
“Byron-Bergen Elementary is one of the first schools in the area to undertake this kind of project,” said Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney. “Instead of going to the landfill and doing nothing useful, this waste will compost into nutrient-rich soil to grow better food. It’s an investment in the future.”
Each day at lunch, students sort their uneaten food items and disposable paper products into blue buckets next to the garbage cans. At the end of all the lunch periods, a rotating group of third grade students, the Compost Crew, assist Cleaner and Lunch Monitor Nancy Smith to load the buckets onto a cart and empty them into Impact Earth dumpster totes behind the cafeteria. Smith then washes the buckets, and the Compost Crew dries them and stacks them for the next day. Every Friday, Impact Earth removes the waste from the dumpster totes to be mixed with wood chips and added to the piles for Lloyd and his friends.
“It’s something we can do to try to help the environment,” said Smith. “The soil needs the nutrients and (the students) are going to be the helpers.”
Byron-Bergen third grade student Mackenzie Wilcox is looking forward to participating. “I think (composting) is great! I like it. The best part is that we get to feed our leftover food to the worms at the composting plant.”
The idea for the composting program began at the Earth Day 2023 assembly. Each grade level collected their trash from lunch and discovered that each class produced an average of 15 pounds of landfill waste per lunch. The discussion of how to reduce this amount led to a waste survey, carried out by the student council in October of 2023. Impact Earth Educational Manager Doug Carney helped the students separate their lunch-time waste. According to Carney, 60% of the cafeteria waste assessed from one day of lunch, over 115 pounds, could be composted or eaten later. Carney noted that “anything that is unopened should be taken home or saved for a snack.”
“I’m really excited for kids to use the compost bins and put our waste to better use, especially being in a community affected by waste management,” said Elementary Principal Kristin Loftus. “I think it will be great for us to do our part to reduce what we are sending to the landfill.”
Part of the Impact Earth partnership includes a soil give-back. Byron-Bergen will receive a delivery of composted soil in May to use in or around the schools or in the greenhouse. “It’s a great opportunity for the adults and students to work together to have a positive impact on the earth,” said Byron-Bergen Facilities Director Roger Caldwell.
“The students are very excited about this project. We will continue to reinforce that the priority is for them to eat their lunches,” said Loftus. “Lloyd and his friends will get plenty of food. Only after the students are full should we add their leftovers to the apple cores and napkins in the compost bins.”
The composting program serves as a leadership opportunity for the third grade as well as a chance for all students and staff to take a moment to look at what is in their lunch, how it is packaged, and the best choices for their food waste. The waste assessment and assembly were sponsored by the Byron-Bergen S.T.E.P. Booster Club.