Climate and Food Justice Club conducts public waste audit



The Climate and Food Justice Club gathers in front of Cypress Field, sorting through trash to spark conversation around recycling and composting.

The Climate and Food Justice Club conducted its second waste audit in front of the Cypress Field on Nov. 17. The club publicly sorted through trash, compost and recycling to showcase the high school’s amount of miscategorized waste and to advocate for more rigorous composting.

Members collected cafeteria waste bags from the first lunch block and dumped them onto tarps outside. Volunteers measured the initial weights of the bags, then sorted them and evaluated the changes.

Compared to last year’s results, the audit indicated a step in the right direction. Last year, compost made up 50 percent of the waste put in trash bins. This year’s data showed that it only made up 25 percent. Additionally, 68 percent of total waste last year was classified as trash, whereas this year, that number dropped to only about 36 percent.

English teacher and Climate and Food Justice Club co-adviser Eric Colburn said these improvements likely happened because of the cafeteria’s frequent use of compostable materials and the students’ refined understanding of waste classification. Colburn said these new insights will be used in multiple ways.

“We’re going to use [the information] as a baseline to measure our progress over the year. We can also see what the biggest problems are and where we can try to focus our group’s efforts,” Colburn said.

Layla Noubir, a sophomore and volunteer waste sorter, was pleasantly surprised by the audit’s results.

“I was expecting a lot worse. It kind of makes sense though, given how many people are there at lunch helping out, and all the PSAs people hear in advisory,” Noubir said.

The audit was organized in part by the Brookline chapter of Mothers Out Front, a women-led nonprofit working to build a better life for future generations with climate and social justice.

Lily Yu, a member of the organization, said that substantial amounts of compost go into the trash because students aren’t aware of what materials should be composted.

“Most companies tell us our waste is all compostable as long as there’s no wax,” Yu said. “The majority of people just want to throw everything into the trash. That’s what we’ve been trained to do.”

According to John Dempsey, a member of the town’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, throwing compostable items in the trash harms the environment and the high school.

“We don’t send to a landfill in Brookline; everything we throw away gets burned,” Dempsey said. “That contributes to the climate problem and it hurts our physical standing. We don’t have enough money to spend on schools, and we’re spending it on burning trash.”

During the audit, onlookers surrounded the sorters, intrigued by their full-body Tyvek suits and the heaping pile of garbage. Dempsey said the audit’s public display was designed to make the onlookers aware of the high school’s waste management issue.

“We do it outside because we want to make a scene. It’s a little bit of virtuous theater. The theater part is to get attention—to have your friends, your classmates, your enemies thinking, ‘This is kind of cool,’ or ‘Boy, this makes a difference,’” Dempsey said.

To Social Studies teacher and club co-advisor Roger Grande, the event’s publicity was primarily for transparency and to encourage spectators to involve themselves with the movement.

“It’s an educational institution, so just about everything we do should be transparent. This is, in particular, because we are trying to engage the full community in [our cause],” Grande said.

Grande also said the high school’s overall composting campaign is a small but essential step in leading sustainability efforts.

“Food waste is a significant climate change concern,” Grande said. “[Composting] is not going to solve all our problems, but it’s one way as a school community we can help mitigate climate change.”