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Vt. students find good use for food scraps - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. students find good use for food scraps

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Third-grader Ivan Minier is in luck; his favorite foods are on the menu at the Orchard School in South Burlington.

"I love some of the hot lunches," he said.

Pasta bake, soups, salads, a fruit bar and more.

"I just really like pasta ‘cause it tastes really good and you can finish it quickly and still have time to talk," Ivan explained.

And if he and his friends don't finish, food waste ends up in compost bins.

"Kids waste a lot of food," said John Powell, a school outreach coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District.

CSWD says up to 50 percent of food in school cafeterias can become scraps. But the Orchard School's composting program keeps about 50 pounds of food waste out of the landfill weekly.

"Schools are the largest restaurants in the world," Powell said. "Schools serve more food than anywhere else. It has an enormous impact on the amount of material that could be composted and should be composted."

And it will be mandatory. It's part of the Universal Recycling Law adopted in 2012. The rules are phased in depending on the amount of food waste generated by institutions. This year, composting is required if more than two tons of food waste is produced weekly. Places like the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care fall under that category. The Orchard School wouldn't need to comply until 2016, but it's leading the way. And by 2020, all food waste will be banned from Vermont landfills, including scraps from your home.

"It is very simple and I think that is why these schools are taking it on. All you have to do is move your hand five inches and put it in a different container," said Bryn Oakleaf of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

It's made easy at the Orchard School with a composting table, signs and education about the importance of composting.

"I think of it as really handy. It is not that good to just throw food in the trash can," said Carley Roberts, a third-grader.

Each year, 60,000 tons of food waste ends up in Vermont's landfills. Instead, it could be put to use.

"When we compost, we are putting back into the environment really healthy soil," Powell explained. "You have an opportunity to turn that negative, not eating all of your food, into a positive by making compost out of it."

It's not only the Orchard School that's well ahead of state mandates when it comes to composting. Nearly 100 schools across the state are already doing it.

"Compost is the pre-eminent fertilizer," said Richard Hudak of Hudak Farm.

Hudak uses compost from several schools in Franklin County at his farm in Swanton. The Hudak Farm grows produce and plants. The compost it uses increases nutrients in soil, makes it easier for roots to grow and absorbs extra moisture, improving crops.

"The idea is bit by bit to capture that waste and put it to its proper use," Hudak said.

Schools have options when it comes to compost. A few do it on-site. Others get it picked up and hauled to composting facilities or it's brought to farms.

"Getting that material out of the landfills is really critical," Oakleaf said.

The Orchard School gets its compost picked up. The district budgets about $1,200 for it. But it's actually saving money because it costs more to truck trash.

"While there is still some collection cost for food scraps, it is a lower cost than hauling materials," Oakleaf said.

"With landfills you are paying by weight or volume, with recycling and compost you are paying by pickup," Powell said.

Ivan does a good job of eating his lunch, but he's glad to know what's left on his tray doesn't end up in the trash.

"Because that way we won't have as much food in the landfill and have tons of junkyards, and we will be able to plant more trees and plants and have more oxygen," he said.

Since the Hudak Farm has a composting facility on-site, it did need permitting. And it got help through the process from the Highfields Center for Composting. Click here for more information on the Highfields Center for Composting.

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