School Turns Tons of Food into Compost, Instead of Wasting It

Published 11/14 2013 05:21PM

Updated 11/14 2013 06:41PM

REEDS SPRING, Mo. -- A high school class is learning lessons about what they eat and what they throw away, thanks to a food-composting program.

For the last month, students like Brandon LeMaster were asked to separate the excess food from their lunch trays. The school collected the organic matter and fed it into an on-site composting machine at the EarthWise Recycling Center.

"It’s kinda great that our school’s doing this," LeMaster said. "We don’t have to worry about what we make or eat ending up in a landfill."

The school produced more than 2 thousand pounds per week, which means the composter is full enough to start creating useable fertilizer. Students in the school's environmental science class visited the machine on a cool November day to see it in action.

David Jones, part of the husband-and-wife team that run the center, led the students around the shed that houses the machine. Some students held their noses and grimaced at the faint odor of aging school lunch.

"This is the high school’s food from yesterday," Jones said, wheeling out a plastic bin. "I had to save it for you guys. It’s not bad. You guys had some soup or something, pasta. Want to see it?"

The students peeked in the bins curiously, sticking out their tongues and making faces. Jones hauled the bin up a ramp and dumped it into the apparatus.

"We’re going to fire the whole machine up," he said, flicking a switch.

The machine works by churning food waste within a giant steel box. It collects vapors and gasses from the rotting food and funnels it through a filter of gravel and mulch. The smell is barely noticeable. Over time, the food breaks down into a dirt-like substance.

Korina Branson, who is married to Jones, said many students become captivated by the entire process, however unappetizing.

"Some kids are completely grossed out by the whole wasted food thing. But some get really excited," she said. "They can actually see the fact that it’s diverted from ending up in a landfill."

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