Eight NYC Public Schools Compost and Reduce Volume of Cafeteria Garbage by 85%




New York, NY - A cafeteria composting pilot program in eight public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side concluded successfully today – the last day of school. The pilot, launched on February 27, 2012, was designed to test the viability of separating and composting food waste – including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps, and sugar cane food service trays. The program diverted 450 pounds of food waste from landfill daily and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85% across the eight pilot schools.

The eight schools with a total of 3,628 students, housed in four buildings in Manhattan’s District 3, comprising both elementary and middle school students, include: PS 199 - Jessie Isador Straus; PS 334 -The Anderson School, MS 245 - The Computer School, and PS 452 located at the William O’Shea campus (100 West 77 Street); PS 166 (132 West 89 Street) and PS 333 - Manhattan School for Children, MS 256 - Academic and Athletic Excellence and MS 258 - Community Action School located at the Joan of Arc campus (154 West 93 Street). Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School (140 West 102 Street, New York, NY) was also composting food waste and paper boats since November 2011, but was not officially part of the pilot.

“This fantastic endeavor succeeded because of the vision, collaboration and dedication of the workers, parents, and school professionals,” said District 3 Council Member Gale A. Brewer, at a June 19 awards ceremony honoring NYC Department Of Education (DOE) custodial, School Food and teaching staff who were involved in the pilot. Brewer, a staunch supporter of the program since its inception, praised the pilot coalition and said “I wish the entire world could see what you did, because it would be a better place.” She also praised the private waste hauler IESI for donating collection and composting services that enabled the schools to collect critical data proving the program's viability and replicability.

The pilot was started and managed by Emily Fano, Pamela French, Lisa Maller, Jennifer Prescott, and Laura Sametz, all public school parents who met through the all-volunteer District 3 Green Schools Group in 2009. The women met monthly to share ideas about how to have a positive environmental impact and reduce waste. All chair their schools’ Green Teams and had been instrumental in replacing the standard Styrofoam cafeteria trays with a compostable sugar cane alternative, paid for with PTA funds. The next step was to “close the loop” and compost the hundreds of sugar cane trays disposed of each day.

Laura Rosenshine, a composting consultant familiar with commercial food waste, who felt that schools would be fertile ground to explore expanded composting in NYC, has been collaborating with the women since October 2011. They started the composting program with the support of school principals and DOE’s District 3 School Food and Facilities managers. Rosenshine arranged for donated collection services from IESI, a Progressive Waste Solutions company, for the duration of the pilot, and provided each building with 64-gallon composting Toters, compostable liners, signage, and digital scales.

The pilot team has been weighing their compost, garbage and recycling for one week each month to collect metrics about how much waste – by weight and volume – they’re diverting weekly from landfill or incineration. The group’s data are providing insights about waste composition in school cafeterias, opportunities for improving recycling and waste reduction, and the potential for cost-savings across the entire NYC public school system. Indeed, the pilot team has collectively decreased the number of garbage bags used in their cafeterias daily from 54 to 8. The District 3 Green Schools Group estimates that this would amount to an annual cost savings of more than $3,000 per year for garbage bags, and an estimated annual savings of more than $3,700 in garbage disposal fees, for the four pilot buildings. Extrapolated to the whole school system, they estimate cost savings of more than $1 million annually in garbage bags and more than $1.1 million in garbage disposal fees.

Since the composting program began, the eight schools have jointly eliminated more than 1,900 Styrofoam trays from the waste stream. The capture of recyclables has also increased dramatically as a byproduct of the pilot.

Fano, French, Maller, Prescott and Sametz all spent several weeks training the children and school staff on proper source separation procedures, and did “lunch duty” frequently during the course of the pilot. The children adapted to the new procedures beautifully and learned about the role composting plays in improving soil fertility, reducing solid waste and stemming climate change. Many enjoyed mentoring their peers on source separation procedures.

NYC Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, who was accompanied by his new Deputy Commissioner for Sustainability, Ron Gonen at the June 19th awards ceremony, praised the efforts of the five green moms who organized the composting pilot and hinted at an expansion in September. “The idea that the mothers got together and we’ve reached this point, where we’ve seen a major reduction in the waste that has to go to landfill, the least environmentally sound way to get rid of waste, is incredible. They started this program and, we’re hoping that in the fall, when the new school season starts, we’re going to have 20 schools in this district mirroring what was accomplished here. So to the mothers, thank you, thank you so much!”


Contact: Emily Fano, (917) 301-8830