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School food scrap compost program expands to Clarksville Middle

County Executive Allan Kittleman, left, talks about food scrap composting as Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty looks on.
County Executive Allan Kittleman, left, talks about food scrap composting as Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty looks on. (Courtesy of R. Scott Kramer/Howard County government)

When they're done eating lunch, kindergarteners at Pointers Run Elementary School in Clarksville sort their waste into not one, not two, but three different bins.

Like most schools, they've got gray bins for trash and blue bins for recycling. But the third type of bin is unique to their elementary school.

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After disposing of trash and recycling, Pointers Run students drop food scraps into a bright yellow receptacle. The unwanted leftovers are then transported to Howard County's Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville for composting.

Now, the elementary schoolers will be able to teach the older kids a thing or two. On Monday, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced the food scrap program -- the first of its kind in the county -- is expanding across the street, to Clarksville Middle School.

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Addressing a group of kindergarteners at lunchtime, Kittleman explained that food scrap collection "is what sustainability is all about.

"It's about using the food that we have here and consuming it; what we have left over, we put in the food scraps; then we take it and we put it in the composting; then it comes back and we start all over again. That's how we help preserve our nature and our environment," Kittleman said.

Since the Pointers Run program began in August, the school has composted four tons of food waste, county officials said. That translates to roughly 82 pounds of food scraps a day.

"It makes sense for these students to be able to continue their sustainability efforts as they move on to middle school," Kittleman said in a statement. "Their support for food scrap collection demonstrates that simple ideas can produce big results." About 60 percent of Pointers Run students move up to Clarksville Middle School, according to the county.

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Clarksville Middle School Principal Melissa Shindel said Pointers Run students "have inspired us.

"You made it look so easy," she told the kindergarteners Monday. "We believe in sustainability and are so excited to bring it to Clarksville Middle."

The impetus for the Pointers Run food scrap collection program came from students there.

Students in Deborah Hantman's fourth-grade class last year wrote persuasive letters to county government and school system officials asking them to consider including their school in the county's food scrap composting program, which expanded to the Clarksville community in November 2013.

Pointers Run Principal Lenore Schiff said there was about a two-week learning curve for students as they discovered the yellow bins, with some help from county officials. Since then, she said, it's been smooth sailing.

"Not only are our children teaching the middle schoolers [about composting]," Schiff said, "they're teaching their families, too."

Kittleman said he hoped to eventually expand the program in schools across the county.

"It's certainly a goal, to have more schools be involved," he said. "It's almost inconceivable to think about what they've already done [at Pointers Run]... I'm excited about the possibility, but this is the way it works: you get one school to do such a great job, you move to the next one and then we'll see what happens after that."

Howard County first launched its food scrap composting program in 2011 in Elkridge. Officials say the program has saved the county money; according to county statistics, processing food scraps and yard trim at Alpha Ridge costs $28.50 per ton, while removing regular household waste to a landfill used to add up to $44 per ton.

Up to 400 tons of material a year is diverted from landfills via the composting program, and the organic waste is used to create mulch, topsoil and other by-products, which are marketed under the brand HoCoGro. Compost sells for $19 a cubic yard, officials said, and sales raked in almost $60,000 last year.

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