East introduced a new composting program this school year and is the first high school in the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) to begin a composting program. Although it’s the first high school to have a composting program, East follows 10 elementary schools who have already been composting their lunches for years. Through word of mouth and the initiative of parents, students and teachers, the schools have helped start their own composting programs in order to preserve the life around them.
Composting is the decaying of items into the earth that eventually provide minerals and nutrients needed for the surrounding plants, animals, soil and microorganisms. The average person creates four pounds of trash a day and it’s estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that 80 percent of that trash could be recycled or composted.
In May of last year, East was awarded a $4500 grant through the Kansas Green Schools program to jump start a composting program. The Kansas Green Schools program, started in 2008, gives schools grants in the areas of waste, water quality and air and helps promote the conservation of the environment.
“We look at the impact their project will have on the students, school and community,” education specialist Rachel Wahle of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education explained. “Also, a major factor is how environmental education is included into the project.”
As more grants from the Kansas Green Schools program were given out in the past years and the interest in bringing composting programs to more schools in SMSD grew. SMSD Energy Analyst Bruce Palmer noticed this and began creating an informal policy that would formalize and support the efforts of the schools’ composting programs. Going along with the policy SMSD passed in 2010 to save energy, money, resources and become a more sustainable school district, Palmer established a volunteer base program that would allow any school to compost given they possess desire to do so. The district would provide the compostable bags and the monthly pick up service. The leftover money the schools received from the Kansas Green Schools grant could be used instead for educational materials on the environment.
“There’s a certain sense where SMSD is kind of leading the way in the green school area in my opinion,” Palmer said.
Passionate about protecting the environment, sophomore Emily Perkins Rock wrote the grant that brought composting to East earlier last year. Perkins Rock was already familiar with composting through her family’s vermicompost, a form of composting that breaks down food waste using various worms. She heard about it through her mom who was writing a grant for her brother and sister at Prairie Elementary to bring composting to their school.
“I thought it would just be so much better for our school’s impact on the environment if we were to start composting as well,” Perkins Rock said.
In May, Perkins Rock received the news that she won a grant for East to start a composting program. Over the summer, she made a video explaining how the process of composting will work at East. The video was shown during assemblies at the beginning of the school year and explained that instead of the usual two bins, there are now four. Recycling, trash, composting and liquid bins are set up around the cafeteria with signs explaining what goes into that bin. During the first couple days of school, members of the Environmental Club stood by the trash cans helping the students figure out where to throw their trash away. However, after the club members stopped helping out the students, so did the composting.
“We are all still in high school so we don’t want to use part of our life to help other people compost, which of course translates to the rest of the student body not wanting to use their time to compost their own lunch,” Environmental Club president Ada Throckmorton explained.
Environmental Club advisor, teacher and sponsor of the grant Russell DeBey explained that by starting your clean up earlier and throwing your trash out throughout your lunch will help things go more smoothly and help with composting. The Environmental Club is considering making bigger signs so the process is easier explained.
“I think it’s important that we take care of what’s been given to us,” Perkins Rock said. “The Earth enables us to do so much and the least we can do is preserve what’s been given to us. We have to think of the future because our children and our children’s children will be living on the same Earth and if we destroy it now, we are going to leave them a mess for them to clean up.”