Zero Waste Kids at Annie Fisher Montessori
It started with overflowing garbage cans in the classroom at Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School. Teachers were frustrated with the number of Styrofoam trays that filled the trash bins after breakfast and that there was no place to put the food waste from lunch. Classroom Teacher Teresa Chan worked with administration and the PTO to purchase plastic trays that could be used for breakfast and washed in the dishwashers in our community kitchen. They combined the washable trays with an overzealous science project and Zero Waste Kids was born.
During the fall of 2018, the Erdkinder students engaged in a project at Auerfarm, working with black soldier flies, a common fly used to compost waste or convert the waste into animal feed. They worked with the resident insect expert, Kevin Krepsbach, to build a bin for the flies to live in and also harvest the larvae to feed the chickens. As the project grew, they were eventually able to bring almost 500 lbs. of food waste a day and process it with the soldier fly larvae.
At Annie Fisher students eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom. Erdkinder students set up a five-gallon bucket in each classroom for collecting the waste. Each afternoon, they would gather the buckets, consolidate the waste, and wash the buckets, which were returned to each classroom in the morning. Eventually, the students began picking up the trays with the buckets and running them through the dishwasher.
As cooler temperatures arrived, the flies became less effective at consuming the waste and cleaning the buckets became much more difficult. We began to look for an alternative way to compost the waste. We settled on utilizing local food waste composting company, Blue Earth Compost. They provide both rolling bins the students use to collect the waste and compostable bags so we no longer needed to wash the buckets every day. Again, it was the PTO that stepped in to help fund the program. The PTO teamed with Erdkinder students to plan a series of fundraisers to raise the money to pay for the service.
Beginning in September 2019, upper elementary students joined with Erdkinder to collect the waste and wash the trays. According to Blue Earth Compost (BEC), “In Annie Fisher Montessori’s participation with BEC, you have diverted 12,975 lbs. of food scraps from the incinerator. That’s enough to offset the emissions from 370.71 gallons of gasoline—the environmental equivalent of 7,266 pounds of carbon dioxide! That’s also equal to the carbon sequestered by planting 54.5 trees. What an impact! Thank you very much for helping to make our state a more sustainable community.”
Blue Earth delivers the waste to Quantum Biopower where it undergoes anaerobic fermentation to produce renewable biogas for electricity, heating, and vehicles. The remaining slurry is composted with leaves and woodchips. In November, Quantam’s compost was delivered to the Erdkinder garden at Auerfarm, thanks to delivery help from the buildings and grounds department. Students used this compost to help expand the garden and prepare it for the winter.
Robert Daniel, Head Custodian at Annie Fisher Campus, says, “Our trash is a lot lighter. It used to take two trips a day to remove the trash from the classrooms, now I can do it in one trip and only use half of the bags. It is also a great way to teach recycling and eliminate waste. The students are enthusiastic participants.”
In Montessori, we have come to view everything as pedagogy; the meals we serve and how we serve them, the beauty of the furniture and materials, the way we invite the child to a lesson, the way we deal with energy and waste. The result of this was exemplified on a recent trip to UCONN Avery Point when student walked up to the trash can after lunch. She stood for a moment with a questioning look on her face, then turned and said, “Where is the compost?”
–Daniel Dusing, Science Teacher