Composting comes to campus to protect the environment

December 2, 2019 — by Cici Xu

The two gray trash cans behind the science building are not regular trash bins, but instead are the school’s first two compost bins. Eventually they will be put into the quad and used in an effort to reduce waste on campus. 

The Green Team environmental club, new maintenance supervisor Paul Weir and administrators are working to make composting a part of the school’s culture. The project could launch as early as the end of December. 

Composting, while common for many households in the Bay Area, is rare at schools, where thousands of pounds of compostable material goes into the trash each year.

“I don't think there are any high schools around here that are composting, so we would be one of the first ones,” Weir said. “We'd be the leaders.”

West Valley Collection & Recycling, which is the main provider of debris boxes for the cities of Campbell, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga, agreed to offer a free service to support the compost program, which will be considered an extended branch of recycling. 

Composting allows for the fertilization of soil through the decay of organic materials like food waste. The resulting nutrient-rich soil can be sold to the landscape industry or used gardening around campus. Items that can be composted on campus include fruit peels, cores, dead plants, pasta and other wasted food resulting from lunches. 

Weir and the Green Team envision this project to be organized and run by students — something Weird calls “student-mentored.”

“When I say mentor, I've never seen a recycling program really be successful without somebody owning it and fostering it like a garden, tending, keeping attention and making it seem important to get people to participate,” Weir said. “If you just put bins out there that are marked trash and recycling, they're both going to be overflowing with trash.”

Green Team members say they are willing to take charge of this project and make sure it runs smoothly, hoping to create a more environmentally stable campus in doing so. 

Green Team members and Weir both admit that educating people about how and what to compost is the hardest thing. They attribute the lack of motivation from both students and adults to the effects of composting not being immediately visible to them.

“By implementing compost in more areas, we can take out a lot of that trash and turn it back into fertilizer and give it back to the earth as opposed to letting it rot and pollute our atmosphere,” Green Team vice president junior Riya Jain said. “We do have so many wildfires in California now and the air quality sometimes is really bad. Even if the consequences aren't global, they can still affect individual people.” 

One reason composting  is rarely done in high schools is the lack of support from the students and the companies operating the local garbage collection programs. 

Both Jain and Weir acknowledged a concern that composting on campus would not cause a big change to the surrounding environment, but it shows progress and a promising future in building a greener community. According to GreenMatters, compost can help reduce methane, a greenhouse gas that is emitted during the process of adding to landfills. Methane is a prime contributor to climate change. 

“It would just take an extra couple seconds to consciously dispose of your waste in the appropriate bin, and it would be something we're going to struggle with for a little while, but I definitely think it's achievable,” Jain said. “I definitely think it’s achievable.”

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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