FAQ's Composting & Food Recovery
Why is composting at school important?
Food and organic waste in landfills/incinerators create the third largest source of human-caused greenhouse gas in the U.S.. Burning plastics and food waste in Montgomery County causes serious particulate pollution impacting human health, and leachate polluting water.
Soil created from naturally decomposing food captures carbon. In fact, soil captures more carbon than all foliage on earth. While only 8-10% of plastics are recycled, 100% of food and organic waste can be composted.
Student-led waste audits estimate over 40% of MCPS school waste is food.
What does composting and food recovery in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) look like?
Schools are advised to use 5 bins to sort waste: compost (organic waste), liquid, recycling, paper, and trash.
Larger bins, which remain outside, hold daily compost until weekly compost hauling services bring organic waste to a compost facility or farm to decompose into soil (3-5 months later).
Trash waste will decrease by an estimate of 80-90% - a potential cost-neutral reduction.
Students learn there is no “away” with trash. They learn the value of their food waste, the food cycle, climate science, and that they play an important role in supporting the planet.
High quality, uneaten foods will not be wasted and thrown away, but shared with the hungry.
What costs are involved?
After the initial costs to purchase bins for compost and liquid waste, compostable bags, signs, and refrigerated coolers for perishable uneaten foods, there is a monthly fee for weekly pick-up by a hauler. The program costs approximately $2,000 to start a school, plus the cost of bags.
We estimate that eventually these costs will balance for MCPS with reduced trash pickup.
School-produced compost can be purchased at a discount (with a percent of free compost) to be used for landscaping, rather than more expensive and unnecessary external mulch purchases.
How are compost removal programs funded right now?
Rise N Shine sponsors composting and food recovery programs , some are currently funded by PTA.
House Bill 150 and Senate Bill 124 are being discussed now - inspired by our programs. If passed, they will provide $500,000 for grants to support composting at public schools in MD.
Students from our organization would like MCPS to fully invest in composting.
What resources can help staff teach students about food diversion?
Rise N Shine will provided with all the materials (posters, blurbs, compost intro video, composting refresher video to the school during the onboarding process.
Older students are teaching younger students through assemblies, lunchtime demonstrations, and morning announcements.
High School Students and Green Team lead teachers can be trained as “Compost Ambassadors” - who, in turn, train Green Team students. The MCPS Department of Facilities Management, Division of Sustainability & Compliance, and Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education of can also offer training.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Food Waste Warrior program offers essential teaching guides for free.
What goes on the share table and where does recovered food go?
The Maryland DHHS says any unopened packaged food and any loose, uneaten fruit is safe and can be shared. Refrigerated items must stay cool (at least 45*F) to be shared.
Food remaining from lunchroom share tables can be taken to local food banks. This has proved to be successful in many other schools, often supplying hundreds of fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk weekly.
Rise N Shine Foundation in Montgomery County is able to supply volunteers through their program to pick-up shareable foods from schools daily or weekly.
To reduce the amount of food wasted, cafeteria staff can implement “ask” not “offer” policies. Milk dispensers are also reducing waste in many schools around the country.
Are there rodent and pest issues?
Contrary to concerns, there are less rodent and pest issues when food diversion programs are implemented. This is because organic waste is separated and placed in its own, sealed bin which is odor-free, rather than in the open standard trash bins.
Without composting, organic waste is mixed with trash, increasing food smells and rodent problems.
All schools that have food diversion programs have not experienced pest issues due to composting.
Rinsing bins weekly and keeping bins in the sun keeps the bins clean and reduces insects.
How do we receive more compostable bags? What if a bin gets damaged?
For schools that are sponsored by Rise N Shine, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Composting bags can be purchased through Amazon. the compost company local to the school and or BioBag.
Compost Crew; Compost Cab; and Veteran Compost are three hauling services in our area.
If a bin gets damaged, also reach out to your local composting service for a replacement.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information About Landfill Gas.
Yale Environment 360. Soil as a carbon warehouse: new weapon in the climate fight?
Inside Climate News. Aug. 2020. How Maryland’s preference for burning trash galvinized environmental activists in Baltimore.