Composting helps school become more environmentally friendly


Ani Mathison

In September, 21.6 tons of food waste were collected from the high school and sent to the Save That Stuff facility.

Jade Kwitkiwski, Staff Writer

Three tons. Six thousand pounds. The same weight as an African Forest Elephant. That is how much compost was collected per month since September from the cafeteria.

Although composting in the cafeteria is additional work for all students, the behind-the-scenes work done by the Environmental Action Club and Brookline’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee has led to a profound impact on the school’s culture towards a more positive environmental attitude. The composting bins and educational posters in the cafeteria also encourage students to take the extra second towards helping their environment.

The project was started after the Solid Waste Advisory Committee reached out to the Environmental Action Club to start composting in the cafeteria. According to Massachusetts State law, “restaurants” of a certain size like the high school cafeteria are mandated to compost.

Environmental Action Club Advisor Mary Minott explained that the club is trying to get the word out by showing composting how-to videos in advisories, explaining the process to individual students and using posters provided by Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason. According to Minot, the education process has been difficult, but steps are being taken in the right direction.

“Student education is really important, students have to buy in and do it because if students don’t do it, it doesn’t work. It takes a while, over time, to change a habit.” Minott said.

After the introduction of compost bins to the cafeteria at the end of last year, advisories watched this video to learn about composting. Contributed by the Environmental Action Club. 

According to senior Hannah Stern-Pait, one of the club leaders, whether students are participating in composting or not doesn’t change the overall positive results.

“I think first of all, it’s diverted a lot of waste from landfills which is really important. And also I think it’s brought more awareness about recycling and organic waste and also just about the environment into our cafeteria,” Stern-Pait explained.

John Dempsey, the chairman of Brookline’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, explained that it had been a struggle to start composting at the high school because of how many priorities the administration had. It wasn’t until the Environmental Action Club stepped in that the administration decided it was time to act.

“And you saw the last two weeks of last school year, these big green carts showed up in the cafeteria and we actually did the pilot test on how this was going to work,” Dempsey said. “So it was the Environmental Action Club students who gave us the political cover to be able to get this thing done. It didn’t force {the administration} to react until the students got involved.”

According to Stern-Pait, once the waste is collected from the high school at the end of the day, it is sent to a facility called Save that Stuff where the compost is broken down into “sludge.” The byproduct is sent to another facility and broken down by bacteria that lets off methane, and then the methane is then burned to power the plant itself.

“Whatever is leftover, is treated and used as fertilizer. And then they take the water and treat that and release it back. So the plant is totally no carbon footprint and it’s sustainable,” Stern-Pait said.

According to Dempsey, the school has the capability for a project with such impact on our carbon footprint due to its students and faculty who deeply care about the issue at hand.

Senior club leader Mary Corcoran describes the Environmental Action Club as a club that has a  desire to help the community and environment by actively working towards a solution.

“We’re the Environmental Action Club, and we put emphasis on action. I know that there’s other clubs that just talk about issues, and we want to get things done,” Corcoran said. “I think that we were just looking for things to do and that was a pretty easy thing that we thought would make a big difference.”

Stern-Pait believes that the school culture is the most important component of the success of composting in the cafeteria.

“The students and faculty are interested in protecting the environment and are willing to take the extra seconds to sort their trash,” Stern-Pait explained. “I think that’s something really special about Brookline because people understand how important that is.”