Food waste audit reveals progress

High School View

By Julia Sayre and Owen Favreau

On Thursday, Jan. 17, Protect Your Environment (PYE) Club worked in tandem with Island Grown Schools (IGS) to conduct a food waste audit of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) cafeteria, which also served as a checkpoint for the new composting system that was implemented this year. 

IGS has conducted three food waste audits at MVRHS in the past four years. IGS educator Suzie Scordino helps run the food waste audit, which measures the amount of compost, landfill trash, and recycling that the cafeteria produces in a single lunch block. Each year, data is collected to show the quantity of each category, revealing an approximation of the school’s daily waste output. 

MVRHS produced 169 pounds of cafeteria waste on the day of the audit: 108 pounds of food scraps, 57 pounds of trash, and 4 pounds of recycling. The audit revealed that the school’s new composting program is successfully diverting a lot of food waste away from the landfill, but also showed that some students struggle to separate their food waste from trash after eating lunch. The food scraps are retrieved by the Island Grown Initiative (IGI) Food Rescue Truck and transported to Thimble Farm, to be composted into soil. 

Scordino spoke to the importance of a food waste audit for the school as a whole. “Being able to do waste audits with students allows me to see [students’] interpretation of the data we find, and how [students] see what’s in the trash differently from the way I see it,” Scordino said. 

Senior Katherine O’Brien, who attended the audit as a member of PYE, was pleased with the progress she sees among her peers. “I thought it was interesting to see how many students are following the signs and throwing things in the proper buckets,” she said. “It was actually better than we expected.” 

Of the total amount of food waste measured, 49 pounds of the food waste had been improperly placed in trash bins, and had to be removed and re-sorted. Sophomore and PYE member Alison Custer reflected on this discovery. “I feel like not a lot of people are very educated about [composting], and they don’t know why it’s important. They just don’t care enough to realize that it has value,” Alison said.  

To students, intentionally separating trash and food in an otherwise hectic period of the day requires a shift in behavior and mindset. Senior Peter Burke shared how he has adapted to the new compost system. “I feel like it’s a pretty easy system to use. It’s pretty clear what you’re supposed to do,” he said.

The audit not only revealed the student body’s progress with the compost system, but also the progress of the custodial staff. Matthew Burke, who has been a member of the MVRHS custodial staff since April, spoke to his relationship with the new compost system. “It’s much better than it started. When it started, it was totally new to me, but also totally new for [the other custodial staff members],” he said. “It evolved into a good system. We’re done [cleaning up] about five minutes after lunch. Everything is put away. It used to be, ‘Which bag is trash?’ ‘Which bag is food waste?’” 

In Dr. Natalie Munn’s leadership class, Alison has been redesigning the food waste signs in the cafeteria. The signs she helped design are bigger, bolder, and contain more specific information regarding the composting process. The change in signage and the food waste audit are two parts of an ongoing effort to create a more environmentally attentive future at MVRHS.