Our long-awaited compost day during school lunch at Moulton Elementary was finally here. This year was our second annual food waste sort, and the timing was perfectly aligned with our school-wide Earth Month celebrations and activities. The 4th grade classes had been preparing for this day with composting lessons by both their teachers and me, made posters to cover the school halls, and a few students even put together a short video with the principal that the entire school got to watch. This project was a perfect application of their “Environments” unit in Social Studies, so everyone was happy to jump on board.
The day arrived, and though chaotic, it was going great. The 4th graders were representing well, walking around the cafeteria during lunchtime reminding fellow students that we would be separating our lunch waste into three categories: compost, recycle, and trash. They assisted students in sorting their plate waste as they dumped their trays, and we only had one almost-full milk carton dropped on the floor (which probably isn’t much higher than the daily average). After each grade’s lunch period, our two star data collectors weighed the amount of waste in order to graph the results on the pictogram they created.
As lunch was wrapping up and some kids and I were cleaning up, I was about to wheel our collected compostable food scraps (some 70 pounds) out to the garden, where I had planned to meet another class that would help to incorporate it into the compost pile. I looked around, and it was nowhere. I frantically double-checked each garbage can, but our tediously-collected pile was MIA. I questioned the custodian who was so very confused and said, “I thought you said that was the trash..?!” Long story a tiny bit shorter, all of that potential black gold got hucked into the dumpster.
I’m not one to give up easily, so I ran out there to fetch it. Let me tell you, it’s hard to reach to the bottom of a dumpster to pull out a very heavy bag. So, I hopped inside and tried to heave it out. Slimy marinara sauce covered everything (it was pizza boat day)- especially my arms after my first attempt at lifting the sack. Every time I thought I was making headway to lift it, the bag threateningly bulged its promise to rip open. I almost gave up as the sneaky thought came into my head, “Well, they throw all this food away every other day, what’s the difference?” And then I remembered that that’s not my attitude, and that doesn’t help kids learn how to grow up healthy. So I ran out to the garden, grabbed some shovels and two kids, and hopped back into the dumpster. My two assistants gagged, rolled their eyes, and continuously questioned my actions as I tore open the slimy 70-pound sack from inside the dumpster and proceeded to scoop every last orange rind, grape, pizza boat, and crumpled napkin (all completely covered in that beloved marinara) out of the dumpster. As my helpers and I rounded the corner to the garden with the heavy, overflowing garbage barrel where an entire class was waiting for us, feeling like Rocky Balboa running up all those stairs to the “Chariots of Fire” music, I knew I’d made the right decision. We ceremonially dumped all of the food into our new compost area, anointing the space with those slimy scraps, leaves, and handfuls of worms that the kids so diligently sifted through the dirt for. After a bit of reflection, I think I’d do all of that again.