Organics recycling grows in the Minneapolis Public Schools

Americorps Volunteer Whitney Hough coaches an Edison High School student on composting (Photo courtesy of Edison High School)

Minneapolis Public Schools has added organic waste composting to its district wide recycling program. Starting last Monday, Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis began composting all uneaten food and many paper products. The school already has a non-organics recycling program in place which includes paper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Edison High has a partnership with Americorps. In addition to after school-tutoring programs, Americorps volunteers have helped launch a relationship with the MPS (Minneapolis Public Schools) Goes Green campaign; a result of a February '09 resolution by the Board of Education stating the district's commitment to environmental sustainability. 

Jasmine Abraham and Whitney Hough are AmeriCorps volunteers who have been working at Edison High School since the beginning of the school year last fall. They are involved in a school gardening program on a small plot of land on Lowry and Central.

"While we were doing gardening work we had a bunch of leftover plant scraps and before this we would have to throw them in the trash can or bring them to the co-op for recycling; we thought it would be cool if Edison started composting," says Hough. After emailing around to get some tips on composting, Hough came in contact with Meredith Fox, who heads the MPS Goes Green department. Fox told Hough that the district was recently awarded a grant by Hennepin County geared towards any schools that would like help starting an organic recycling program. The grant money provided bins and the Americorps volunteers began talking with students about their plan.

Minneapolis Public Schools are recycling organics

• Anthony
• Barton
• Bryn Mawr/Parkview
• Burroughs
• Cityview
• Dowling
• Edison High School<
• Field
• Hale
• Jefferson
• Kenwood
• Lake Harriet Upper and Lower
• Lake Nokomis/Wenonah
• Marcy
• Nellie Stone Johnson
• Northeast
• Northrop UELC
• Richard Green/ Central
• Seward Montessori
• Southwest High School
• Washburn High School
• Windom

"We talked to science classes mostly about composting; explaining the process, what happens and why we are doing it and those students are starting to show other students," explains Abraham.

With the help of other students during lunchtime on the second day of composting, Abraham and Hough stand by several bins which feature pictures and brief directions about what goes in what bin; from regular waste, to organic and non-organic recyclables. Hough admits a little apprehension on how the students would respond to the new routine.

"I was a little worried at first, it is hard to change people's behavior and I was surprised that Monday and today it's been going really well. I think that when we went around to the classes, the biggest thing they reacted to is the fact that, when you don't compost, you burn all of the waste and that waste is a contributor to the cause of asthma. Over half my students have asthma; that was personal and they had an investment in what we were doing."

Unlike smaller scale operations where meat and dairy can't be used because of odor and bacteria, the Minneapolis Public Schools program is on a wide enough scale that they are able to bring the leftover organic waste to a holding facility on a weekly basis. From there it is sent to the Mulch Store in Rosemount, where the organic waste is composted and used for growing plants and trees in the Hennepin County Park System, in addition to using the new soil to repair and maintain Minneapolis's pothole heavy roads.

Mary Blitzer, who has worked on the MPS Goes Green program since last September, says that the grant will help cover costs for composting for two years as the Mulch Store takes the compost at no cost and turns it into a reusable commodity.

"The plan is that the main ongoing cost will cover itself. You have to pay to get rid of the trash to haul to the incinerator and there are no taxes on organic waste [when recycled]," Blitzer points out.

The organic recycling program currently involves 22 schools, but Blitzer says they have enough grant funds to increase that number by ten. Anyone interested in starting a similar program at their school is invited to an informational session for composting on March 23 at 10:30 a.m. at the district offices on 807 NE Broadway in Minneapolis.

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    Dan Greenwood's picture
    Dan Greenwood

    Dan Greenwood (dander2 [at] hotmail [dot] com) is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.