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Casey Composting Champions

Composting in the Cafeteria

by, Liz Rutledge, Founder, Sustainable Three, LLC

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. 

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is a fine example of a sustainable school.

Meet Chef Ann Cooper.  She established the Chef Ann Foundation in 2009 to bring healthier lunches to schools in the Boulder Valley School District.  Chef Ann is passionate about getting kids to eat healthy, balanced meals.  “It starts with the school district’s Wellness Policy”.  Boulder’s is really strong.  She emphasizes the direct connection between healthy food and academic performance.  “We don’t give kids a choice about what they learn in the classroom.  Why would we give them a choice on the best, healthiest way to eat?”.

Chef Ann Cooper of the Chef Ann Foundation

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.

Plant-Forward Option with Locally-Grown, Organic Food!

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.

Guides Help Students Load Their Plates for Ideal Nutrition

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.

All trays, plates, cups, and cutlery are washed and reused.
Food waste and other compostables are weighed daily to keep track of the carbon offset.

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.

For more on composting, see some of my other blog posts on sustainablethree.com! Like basics of composting and why it’s important or how we off-set over 2000 pounds of compostable waste at Denver East High School’s After Prom!

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From Prom Posts to Compost: East High School’s After Prom Gets a New, Greener Look for 2019

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!”

An estimated 1100 lbs of recycling was also diverted and sent to Alpine Waste & Recycling through the Denver Recycles (https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/trash-and-recycling/recycling.html) program!

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!:

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