When Community Partners Together, Everyone Wins

Tulsa Master Recyclers Association

COMPOST CREW: From left, Joshua Zepeda, Amy Perez, Alejandra Revolorio, Perla Coeto, and Aniyah Morrison, proudly known as The Compost Crew, ensure that their food waste pilot project runs efficiently, keeping the cleanup process at five minutes or less.

BETH TURNER for GTR Newspapers

A new composting pilot program at McAuliffe Elementary in the Union School District is reducing trash waste, feeding local animals and empowering students as leaders. It’s all thanks to a partnership with local powerhouse Katie Plohocky.

I recently viewed the process in action. Nutrition Specialist Lauren Bradley explains the set-up:

“We have a compost crew that we started here at McAuliffe with the idea to reduce the amount of food waste that’s going in to the trash,” says Bradley.

The pilot targets lunch clean-up for grades third through fifth. Teachers selected crews of five students from each grade, who, each day, oversee the process.

Here is the crew breakdown: The trash tosser oversees trash waste, the compost and processed foods leaders ensure the right foods make it into the right bins, a tray processor ensures the reusable trays make it back to the kitchen, and a team leader records the weight of discarded foods. “We’ve seen a huge decrease already in the amount of trash that’s taken out because the only things going into the trash now are milk cartons and sporks!” says Bradley. : milk cartons do not recycle because they are wax coated, and our local recycling services currently only recycle plastic containers #1, 2, and 5.

The rest of lunch goes into one of two bins: one for processed foods, which will feed pigs, and one for fruits, vegetables and paper napkins, which will feed chickens. The chicken’s waste will then become compost, which in turn will come back to McAuliffe to be added into the soil in their Global Gardens beds.

Bradley says that when implementing the pilot program, Building Engineer Jose Valdez was reluctant about the idea, stating concerns of more mess and interrupting lunchroom efficiency. But Valdez reports that when well-run, this pilot could benefit every school.

“I think for the building engineers, they’re going to have less back injury. The crew takes the heaviest stuff … and now, one or two classrooms, you use only one bag [of trash]…I think it’ll save some money for the district, too,” says Valdez.

Students are also big fans of the new process, like Spencer Cupps. “It’s much easier so that way we can help Mr. Jose with the trash and he doesn’t have to take, like, 16 bags out.” Fellow student Talasia Scott agrees. “It’s great because it’s easier to sort out our, you know, our fruits and vegetables and stuff like that. So, we can compost some of it, and we can feed it to some of the animals.”

It’s nice that they’re getting to go through the line and see like, ‘Oh this is how much I’m wasting.’ The crew is definitely getting to see what their classmates like and don’t like cause they’re seeing what’s getting thrown away,” says Bradley,
“One of the things we found so far is that the classes that have recess first are wasting less food. We want them to eat their food and not just feed it to the pigs. That’s another part of this project is to bring awareness so that they will be eating more of their food and wasting less.

We’re really talking about picking your food choices, and about all the processes it takes to get food here because a lot of kids forget that, I’m throwing away that orange, and that orange had to be grown, it had to be watered, it had to be transported and it had to be cut and I’m just gonna throw it away. So bringing some awareness as to all the steps it took to get it here so maybe if I’m not hungry I won’t take that orange, and I’ll leave it for someone who will want that orange.”

Bradley says one of the greatest joys of the process so far is seeing the leadership within her Compost Crews. “The students are all still getting in and out of the cafeteria, the dismissal process still takes only five minutes or less. And [the Compost Crew] have really just taken ownership and it’s been amazing.”

We think so, too.

On a personal note, thank you to Katie Plohocky for this amazing program, and the hard work that must be involved on her end. Each day, she or someone from her team picks up the two containers of food then delivers them to her farm.

Noted for her work solving hunger issues throughout our area, Plohocky’s most recently was named Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry.

Do you have an Eco Hero in your life? Tell us about it by emailing bethturner@me.com, or follow the conversation @TrashTalkTulsa.

Updated 04-24-2017

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