Chapel Hill schools could start composting

Even the youngest of Chapel Hill’s residents will now be carrying on the town’s image of being environmentally focused.

Officials from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ sustainability committee are considering a program to compost food at local schools.

The committee conducted an audit at Estes Hills Elementary School last week to see how much and what types of compostable trash students throw away.

The audit aimed to see if the district can collect the 4,000 pounds of trash it would need to generate each month to join Carolina Dining Services and local restaurants in a program that composts food waste.

Based on a November audit, one school’s kitchen made just 650 pounds of compostable trash, not enough to make collection cost-effective.

To collect enough waste, the schools are now looking past the kitchen — and into the cafeteria.

Based on the November audit, composting student trash might add about 120 pounds daily, or about 3,360 pounds monthly, to the kitchen total, said Todd LoFrese, the school district’s assistant superintendent for support services.

“There’s not enough waste in the back,” said Cody Marshall, Orange County recycling programs manager. “But we know that there’s probably enough food in the front.”

Audits will be conducted at Phillips Middle School and East Chapel Hill High School during the next two weeks to ensure enough food scrap is produced at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

If the audits show the 4,000 pound minimum isn’t attainable, it might be decreased, Marshall said. But he said that would depend on talks with the composting contractor.

Officials are concerned about students sorting food correctly.

Students would have to sort waste into several categories, and if there was too much error, the compost would become useless.

“Getting kids of any age to do this is difficult,” said Blair Pollock, Orange County solid waste planner.

Marshall said the process has proved troublesome for students, but participants could be educated and the process simplified.

“The only way to make a program like this successful is to make it simple,” Marshall said.

The three schools targeted for the audit already compost kitchen scraps through a pilot program, LoFrese said.

Solid waste department officials said the school’s sustainability programs have reduced the amount of wasted food.

“What we’re finding is that they’re reducing food waste as we’re thinking about collecting it,” Pollock said.

But officials say there is still room to grow.

“We want to see what we can do to increase and expand our recycling program,” LoFrese said. “We are doing quite a bit, but our policy calls for continuous improvement.”

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