by Melanie Morgon
Recycling and composting is great, but is it possible to get a first grader to separate lunchtime waste into four different categories? The answer at Needham’s Hillside School is a resounding “Yes”!
Last April, Hillside school students worked with their principal and lead custodian to set up a trash sorting system for the K-5 school. At Hillside school, lunchtime waste is sorted by students into four different types, continuing the program begun by last year’s 5th grade Lego League team, the Radioactive Hamburgers.
Although last year’s fifth graders are now at High Rock School, before they left Hillside, they put a plan in place to keep food waste recycling happening. They set up a club called the Radioactive Hamburgers Club, inducting last year’s fourth graders, teaching them how to organize and monitor, making sure the work continues. Parent Seema Meloni noted that lead custodian Walter Godoy has been proactive and smart in thinking about how to make the program sustainable. To help keep the students engaged, he has planned a new award for the grade that does the best job with trash sorting: the Golden Tray award.
This fall, it’s apparent that students at Hillside have taken trash separation in stride–they understand it as part of their lunch culture. The new Radioactive Hamburgers work with the school and students at different lunches to make sure their classmates understand how to separate and why, and they help monitor daily separating. Needham’s Superintendent of Solid Waste and Recycling Operations Greg Smith specifically asked the pilot program to ensure the food waste contains nothing more than trace amounts of meat or seafood, and no bones or dairy. He checked in periodically, and when he was satisfied the sorting was consistent, he arranged for pickups to begin.
The details worked out for the Hillside pickup were simple: the town of Natick wanted to run a two-year residential composting pilot program, with 500 households participating. However, the town had nowhere to bring its food waste, so Natick contacted Needham. Needham agreed to take Natick’s compost at no cost, if Natick would agree to pick up the Hillside school’s food waste. In August, 2016, the two towns signed a Letter of Agreement for two years, and Natick began shipping twice a week to Needham. The Hillside pickup program launched officially in October of this year, with trucks picking up at the school Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
For the time being, the program is still a pilot, but, as Smith noted, this is a pilot with room to grow and really take off. Both Smith and Meloni said that they hope this program will expand to the other schools in town, perhaps even to thinking proactively about waste management for the new Hillside school.