Click photo to enlarge
Tuesday, February 26, 2008, Malik Bradley-Napoleon, 7, center, a second grader at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., works to sort all of his lunch trash into compost, trash and recycleables. Glenview is starting a new composting program led by Pamela Fong, far left, in partnership with Waste Management that will give them substantial annual savings. (Alison Yin/Oakland Tribune)
OAKLAND — Something startled Pamela Fong when she visited her daughter's kindergarten class one day at lunch, and it wasn't a food fight. It was the heap of garbage the children left behind.

"I just thought the amount of trash that one little class of 20 students was producing was frightening," she said.

When the Glenview Elementary School mom started asking questions about the school's trash collection, she learned it could drastically reduce its bill — and its environmental impact — by composting organic waste.

The school principal, Deitra Atkins, joined the effort. So did custodian Jerry Fudge, whose enthusiastic support was essential for the change to happen, parents said.

Many supported the idea, in theory. But at first, Fong said, some feared the new system would be smelly and attract gnats. The Glenview Green team eventually allayed such concerns by explaining the waste would be removed daily from the lunchroom and weekly from the school. The committee also sent home a flier with examples of trash-free lunches, complete with a biodegradable wax paper bag. The committee, which Fong heads, expects the school will save hundreds of dollars a month in Waste Management fees, with an annual savings in the thousands of dollars.

On Tuesday, the children at Glenview started sorting their lunch waste (under the guidance of adult supervisors): cardboard trays in one place, liquids in another, recyclables in one bin, trash inanother.


Advertisement

In the last bin, for compost, children will pitch the food they didn't eat, wax paper bags and other organic material. Students will be trained to monitor the bins so that Cheetos bags don't end up with the compost pile.

Peralta Elementary in Rockridge recently developed a composting program after the school district included green waste-pickup services in its contract with Waste Management, parent Christopher Waters said.

The school has saved a small amount of money through the new system.

But as of now those savings will go back to the Oakland school district's administrative offices.

The school district eventually wants to allow schools to keep the money they have saved through green initiatives, said Troy Flint, the spokesman for the district. But since utility costs are centralized, he said, staff would need to create a new system for the distribution of funds.

"We will get to that point, but we're not there right now," Flint said.

Atkins said she hoped other schools would follow suit. Not only does it save the schools money, she said, but children will become accustomed to doing what's right for the environment — and, maybe, pass it along to their families.

If they learn to compost at this age, Atkins said, "It will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Schools interested in starting a compost program can contact the Oakland Unified School District's Garden Council for support through it's Yahoo-group Web site: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ousdgardencouncil.

Contact Katy Murphy at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com or call her at 510-208-6424. Read her Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.