Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is an inspiring example of how to compost in a school cafeteria. With 600 students in the entire school, half of whom get what we used to call “hot lunch”, the cafeteria staff provides 300 lunches a day.
The Boulder Valley Nutrition Services department provides ~14,000 meals a day with three kitchens for the entire school district. Meals are primarily made from scratch (except rolls, flatbreads, etc.), but those items are sources locally. They attempt to have mostly organically-grown food. Milk is provided via dispensers with reusable cups. Lemon-infused water is provided as well. Cutlery is reusable as well as the plates and serving trays. Plastic bags are the only landfill trash produced.
Students are provided with guides on how to load their plates. They have to have three components on their plates according to Federal regulations. This includes ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of milk. At Casey Middle School at least, there is always a plant forward meal offered. Posters with pictures show what a serving looks like.
In Boulder Valley, the health initiative also includes composting in the cafeteria. Composting is THE most impactful thing we can all be doing to help with carbon footprint. After students finish their meals, they go to the dish washing station where they dump any uneaten food in a bin that weighs how much food waste is going to be composted. Then, their trays, plates, cups and cutlery are washed before the next meal shift.
Daily, the bins are put into a composting dumpster that is picked up by local Boulder’s Eco-Cycle where the food waste is converted into compost that helps with carbon absorption, putting nutrients back into the soil.
The Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair just celebrated 41 years of sharing community, entertainment, good food and access to beautiful homes in one of Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhoods. This well-established event involves people in the neighborhood opening their homes (usually between four and eight homes) as well as a street fair with up to 100 vendors, food trucks, drinks, live entertainment, as well as presentations. Consequently, the Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair is the largest fundraiser for the Greater Park Hill Community – an organization that supports the neighborhood through a monthly local newspaper, a food pantry and farmers market as well as many other events and services.
Mindfulness about Our Community in Action
This year, I partnered with Becky Migas of B. Green Events to manage the sustainability aspects of this event. It was a beautiful, sunny day…not too hot, not too cold and not a cloud in the sky. As we set up waste stations around the parkway, 85+ vendors set up their tables and tents. Bicycle bells chimed and the gentle hum of generators for the food trucks purred.
I have been involved in this event for seven years in various capacities. For example, our home has been on the tour and I have written up descriptions of the homes along with another local writer for years. But, last year, I was invited to help with the sustainability efforts of the event and help with vendor registrations. For the first time ever, we added electronics recycling. It was an experiment and we had great participation, but it cost people money (about 50 cents a pound) and the fundraising aspect wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. But, this year we had PCs for People accepting electronic donations for little to no cost and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club helped hugely to accept all the PCs, laptops, cables, TVs and more. Last year, there was also a Sustainability Zone.
In the Zone
This year, in the Sustainability Zone, we had several vendors educating fair-goers about bees with Vine Street Farms, reducing packaging and exploring refill options with Joy Fill, how to get around town without using a car with the Northeast Transportation, getting help tuning and optimizing your bicycle with Bikes Together, how to reduce our harm to the coral reefs with Coral Reef Restoration Panama, and how to live more sustainability and lower our carbon footprint with Sustainable Three and B. Green Events. We had a “Minute to Bin It” challenge where players had to correctly put the right item in the right bin within 60 seconds, articles about our previous waste diversion projects, like East High School’s After Prom event last spring and guidance on how to reduce waste to the landfill – one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses.
10 Factors that made this a Sustainable Event
ALL vendors were required to use certified
compostable ware (cups, plates, cutlery, etc)
Vendors had to provide proof that the serving
ware was compostable. And, if it wasn’t,
they had to replace the items or leave (thankfully, everyone complied and no
one had to leave)
Waste stations were positioned all over the
event to make it EASY for attendees to deal with their waste, minimizing
contamination and littering
Volunteers were trained to sort, collect, weigh
and empty the waste bins into their appropriate wheelie bins (provided by
Neighbors provided Recycling, Compost and
Landfill bins to minimize cost and eliminate the need for expensive and
unsightly roll-away dumpsters
Educational pieces were sprinkled throughout
promotional materials (posters, programs and on the web site)
A Sustainability Zone was established and
managed providing fun and education for attendees
Electronics recycling was available for little
to no charge on the day and volunteers from the Rotary Club managed it so our
team could focus on the Sustainability Zone and waste management.
People were encouraged to walk or bike to the
event and the homes on the tour (free bicycle parking available at all homes
and the street fair)
Denver Water had their truck there to provide
water for patrons – either using their own water bottles or compostable cups
Then, the Skies Opened up…
The event was well attended and the weather held out until
the very end when we did our waste sorting and weighing (so we can report back
to the Greater Park Hill Community and have baseline numbers for future
years). As we were sorting and cleaning
up, the skies opened up in a deluge, which made it challenging, but we still
think we got accurate numbers. Once all
the numbers were in, we were proud to report an 82% diversion rate! The next morning all the recycling, compost
and trash was collected by Denver Waste Management. PBS was there the next day filming for a
documentary that will air at the end of October/early November. Neighbors who had donated their bins for the
day received their bins back empty (for the most part) AND, best of all, there
was NO waste
remaining on the parkway (something that neighbors have complained about in the
It was a satisfying experiment and provides hope for future
It’s the choices we make in our daily lives that can make
little shifts in this adventure called climate change.
Even more ways to Support Sustainability
As we learn and gradually change our habits, we can make a
difference in other, more impactful, ways too:
Support the bigger players where there is more
Support businesses and organizations that are
focusing on sustainability
Donate to non-profits like the Sierra Club,
Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and other organizations doing the
Pressure businesses to move towards more
environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices
Boycott businesses that are still doing things
that damage our environment and our health
Sign petitions and lobby
Reading blog posts like this one can help keep you
educated. You can make tweaks in your
habits. But, to make a more effective
impact, think bigger and put some of the pressure and responsibility on the companies
and organizations that have the power to make big changes towards
Disturbed and saddened by the amount of waste from last year’s East High School After Prom, East parent/Mindful Sustainability blogger and consultant, Liz Rutledge (http://www.SustainableThree.com), took on co-chairing the newly established Sustainability Committee for this year’s event.
East High School’s After Prom event is legendary*. With a $30,000 budget (all which is fundraised by the parents of the school), the Steering Committee works magic with the funds raised. Thirty plus parents transform the school with their creative designs and talents into a magical place that keeps 800+ students occupied, entertained and safe from midnight to 4:00 am after the dance has ended. Each year, the Steering Committee picks a new theme for the Prom to keep it fresh and creative. This year the theme was “Game On” and each section of the school consisted of game themes, such as Battleship, Hungry Hungry Hippo, Candyland, and the Price Is Right! They also transformed the smaller gym into a large “backyard” with a camping area, backyard games, “food trucks”, a garden and much more!
This was the first year that the Steering Committee made sustainability a priority. Liz decided to enlist the help of Becky Migas, (https://www.bgreenevents.com/) sustainable event planner and owner of B.Green Events, as a co-chair on the Sustainability Committee. And, they are pretty sure they are bonded for life after the experience.
From decoration preparation to event night to clean up and everything in between, there are a lot of event planning components that go into the EHS After Prom. The parents begin preparing the decorations months prior to Prom night. They spend countless hours researching on Pinterest and working in a dusty strip mall basement to make the perfect transformative space for their kids and their friends. In the end, the students’ faces when they see their school in a different way is thanks enough! The Decoration Committee Co-Chairs, Lizzie Mara Treat and Sam Robinson, were the leading charge for their space captains using repurposed materials from past After Proms. In fact, the entire committee repurposed 80% of decorations from previous years! The other 20% that were not used were then donated to local neighbors, other high schools, RAFT, Art Garage or ARC.
During the planning process, Liz and Becky worked with the different committees, especially decorations and food to help them devise a plan to divert as much as waste from the landfill as possible. They were able to provide the Food Committee with compostable items such as cups, plates, napkins and more, which were provided by World Centric (http://www.worldcentric.org) / EP Distribution (https://epdcolorado.com/). They even had compostable champagne glasses, thanks to SelfEco (https://selfeco.com/), for the Hippo Lounge desserts! This was the first time incorporating compostable items into the event and parents and students alike seemed to love the concept!
However, after a few conversations, Liz and Becky realized that the Decoration Committee had spent SO much time on their spaces that the Sustainability team needed to also create an “atmosphere” with their waste stations (compost, recycle and landfill). So they created the game “Think, Thank, Dunk” where the kids had to stop and think before they dunked their “trash” into the bins. The amazing referee parents/volunteers were there to stop and then assist the students with their choices. The kids were AMAZED when they learned most items were compostable! It was a great opportunity to provide some education to them about compostable cups, plates, spoons, etc, especially for many who have never used those materials previously.
Finally, water stations were provided all throughout the school with 5 gallon water jugs, provided at a discounted price from Rocky Mountain Bottled Water (https://www.rmbw.com/), that were labeled with Monopoly Water Works signage. (Plus, all the cups were compostable)! Last year, the students wasted hundreds of half drunk water bottles and this year the After Prom saved over 1,000 water bottles from being used and going to the landfill.
All and all, it was a HUGE success!
The EHS AP Final Numbers
The After Prom diverted over 900 lbs of compost and delivered it to Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO to be properly composted in an industrial composter. (https://www.ecocycle.org/). While dropping off the compost, Liz exclaimed, “It’s not as gross as you think!”
Once again, this year, approximately 80% of decorations from this year were either recycled, donated, or placed into EHS AP storage to be reused for next year’s After Prom.
PLUS a large carload full of decorations from this year were donated to George Washington High School for their prom the next weekend.
While a lot of lessons were learned by all, the sustainability initiatives put in place by Liz, Becky and the whole Steering Committee made a large impact for one small event. Sustainability is already set in place by the already established Steering Committed for next year. Parent volunteers will be needed again, but with many of the kinks worked out, it should be even more fun to save the planet.
*This year, East’s After Prom was featured on Denver’s Channel 4 news channel!:
The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.
According to Dictionary.com, composting is:
a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.
verb (used with object)
to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).
verb (used without object)
to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.“
But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.
If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’
A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.
This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.
Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!
However, sometimes other little beings decide they want to use it as a food source and sometimes even set up camp.
Mice and rats are not an uncommon variety of these unwanted guests.
Unfortunately, mice and rats can spread disease through their feces and you really don’t want them hanging out in your compost pile. If you have an above-ground tumbler, this shouldn’t be a problem. But, it’s good to take precautions if you have a pile (or a box, like we do).
I found this article which is helpful should you find yourself facing this challenge:
Today’s challenge is to start composting – or at least look into it.
Part 1 of this challenge – instead of putting your peelings and other food waste in the bin, save it for this one day and see how much you would divert from the landfill, then consider starting composting at home or with your city’s composting program (where available).
Maybe keep the peelings and such in a bag throughout the day and then weigh the bag at the end of the day. Take a photo of it and share it on social media. Then, if you multiply that times 365 that’s how much your household is contributing to the landfill each year.
Part 2 of this challenge is to actually start composting. If you have five to 10 minutes today, research what it would take to start composting. So much of what ends up in the landfill is wasted food. Something like 40% of food in America is thrown away. Composting not only diverts food from going to the landfill, it also nourishes the soil making it healthier for growing more healthy food and the cycle continues. So, you can find out if your city has a composting program. Or, if you have the ability and space to have compost in your own yard and start a garden this summer, this is a good time to get it started. Feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own compost? SustainableThree.com offers consulting services for this very thing.
Each autumn, there is a harvest. Harvest of food, harvest of grades, harvest of family time. It’s a natural process. Animals do it by instinct. Plants and trees do it automatically. If we follow nature’s rhythms, we naturally feel a sense of needing more down time and rest in autumn.
Putting your garden to bed is also a natural process. Plants have done their jobs producing food and, when they have finished, they naturally go inside. Their leaves turn brown and fall off, their stems dry up.
All that is involved is harvesting any last fruits or vegetables and then use large pruners or shears to cut down the plants. Then, spread them evenly like a blanket and that’s it!
The remains will naturally break down over the winter and in the spring, you can mulch it all into the soil. Easy peas-ey.
Herbs can be dried. Simply cut them, bind them with twist ties or string and then use clothes pins/pegs to hang them from hangers in your kitchen, laundry room or garage. Once dry, you can put them in jars and use them for recipes or teas.
Too cold for your tomatoes? Green tomatoes can be ripened by putting them in brown paper bags in a pantry, garage or mud room.
For more detailed information on how to put your garden to bed check out these links:
Leaves are falling like crazy where we are right now. It’s Autumn…when the trees have absorbed all the nutrients they need and take that inside to prepare for winter. When the leaves’ job is finished, they naturally fall to the ground.
Don’t burn those leaves! Burning leaves contributed to air pollution. Instead, rake them up and put them in bags in your garage or the back of your yard or garden. When you start your compost pile in the spring, you can use those leaves to get it started and continue to “feed” your compost throughout the winter and into next summer.
Fallen leaves carry 50-80% of the nutrients a tree extracts from the soil and air. These nutrients include carbon, potassium and phosphorous. So another great option is to mulch them into your lawn in the fall. They will do their work over winter and help your grass health.
Mulching your leaves and spreading them over your garden limits weed growth and adds organic matter and protects the soil. It’s like a blanket for your garden to keep it warm through the winter!
Another option is to using city-wide leaf recycling or composting programs.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand the smell of a stinky garbage bin. All that rotting food gives off such a nasty stench.
One easy way we’ve lowered our family’s carbon footprint is to start composting. And, as an added benefit, we no longer have the smelly trash issue.
I was shocked to learn that 1/3 of what goes to landfills is compostable. Have you thought of reducing the amount of waste your household contributes to the landfill? Landfills emit methane as well as Carbon Dioxide and other gasses*. Methane is a gas that is 20+ times more damaging to the Ozone Layer and traps up to 100 times more heat over a 5-year period than Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Some cities, like our city of Denver, have composting programs, which is a great option if you are not a gardener or if you rent an apartment or condo where composting is not allowed. You can reduce your trips to the dumpster and reduce your contribution to the landfill.
If you have your own property or rent in a property that has a community garden or landscaping, you can have your own compost! Even if you live in an apartment, you can (usually) still have a worm farm.
Our family has been composting since 2000. I can tell you that I do not miss having to go to the garden center and buy heavy, bagged-in-non-biodegradable-plastic bags. Putting peelings and such in our kitchen collector bucket is a very natural action now and taking it out to the compost bin in the alley is just “something I do” as I head out for the day.
One of SustainableThree.com’s offerings is helping with compost start-up. After a brief interview, I can help you find a composter in your budget and a collection bucket for your kitchen. Then, it’s just a matter of collecting the right materials and giving it a weekly or bi-weekly stir. We set up the composter and get your composter cooking. If you want to learn the setup process, we can work together. Or, I can set it up and give quick instructions on how to maintain it. Once it’s set up, keeping it going is easy – just feed it and stir it regularly.
You’re probably thinking this is a blog post about bio-diesel. Well, it’s not…not this time, at least. A good friend of mine who is busy and travels for work a lot recently challenged me to take on “Food as Fuel”. The challenge is to create a meal plan of sorts such that said friend can eat 80% food as fuel and 20% food as a social activity. Because my friend travels so much, I can only really assist with the home times.
I have always loved food. My mother tells me that I ate green onions in my high chair. I have always eaten my veggies without being told to and I have been vegetarian. I took a nutrition class in college and was a weight loss counselor for a time. I am passionate about food.
Not everyone loves eating their greens, which is why I think the green smoothie was invented…to mask the taste and texture of spinach, kale, collard greens and other green foods that some people don’t like in their most natural state.
I have started a quest to analyze daily recommended nutrition and come up with solutions that make life easier and maintaining our health more sustainable. My quest, potentially much to my family’s chagrin, will include making easy “fast food” that fuels us and nourishes us. I will include investigation in to the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” as well as when organic is important in general.
Solutions will include not only green smoothies, but also mason jar salads, mason jar pancake mix and burgers made up of so many foods, they may very well be all you need on your plate.