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Doing the “Rot” Thing at Rossman School

By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte

October 3, 2019

If you have joined your child for lunch in the dining room lately, you’ve probably noticed the addition of several bins and posters along the side wall. As we’ve settled into our routine here at the beginning of the year, students and staff are redoubling their efforts to make Rossman a more sustainable school. One of the main areas of focus has been decreasing the waste created in our dining room and correctly managing the waste we do create.

When students are finished with their lunches, they carry their trays to the waste station on the side of the dining room. It is here that the students “stop and sort!” Student council members have helped the school by creating posters that are displayed above each bin so the students know exactly what items go in each location. They don’t walk up and dump everything in the trash can anymore. Instead, you can find students thoughtfully sorting their waste into the correct bins. Silverware goes into tubs so it can be washed by the kitchen staff and reused by others, thus decreasing our waste from plastic utensils. Recyclables like applesauce containers, jello cups, and yogurt cups are emptied of any leftover food onto the tray and then thrown into the blue recycle bin. As our students learned at the beginning of this year, we have another bin at lunch representing a new option for our food waste: composting.

Last year, the class of 2019 began a project in upper science to track the amount of food waste we were producing as a school. They spent several weeks weighing the amounts of waste created at all the lunches throughout the day and were shocked at how much we were wasting. They started to explore ways to reduce our waste. With the help of cafeteria manager Glenda Lay and the entire kitchen and custodial staff, many changes were put into place last year. Students now find pitchers of milk on their tables instead of using individual cartons, which were adding to landfill waste. Straws were eliminated from the cafeteria. Individual bags of snacks, like potato chips, were swapped out for large bags that are distributed in servings on the students’ trays. Students are encouraged to take only a small serving first and then are welcome to return for seconds. Sandwiches are cut in half and are now an option for smaller appetites instead of wasting an entire sandwich. Additionally, the class of 2019 began investigating the process of composting food waste. They explored the different methods of composting and decided that a compost tumbler might be the best option for our school. At the very end of the 2018-19 school year, a compost tumbler was purchased and installed in Beth's Courtyard. Check it out next time you have a chance if you haven’t noticed it yet!

This year, to build on the efforts of the class of 2019, we began the school year in upper and lower science classes by teaching students the science behind composting. We explored the various types of composting and discussed what kinds of items we can compost in our tumbler. Students learned that composting creates new soil by the process of decomposing a combination of green organic matter and brown organic matter. Green organic matter is food waste that is high in nitrogen, while brown organic matter includes drier yard waste such as wood scraps, dried leaves, and grass clippings, which are high in carbon. The students and staff learned that because we have a closed tumbler system, we are a bit more limited in what can be composted than some other methods of composting. We are able to compost our raw fruit and vegetable waste, which acts as our green organic matter, as well as our napkins and paper towels, which serve as the brown organic matter.    

Our sixth graders serve as the “compost captains” for the school.  At the end of their lunch period, which is the last lunch for the day, two sixth graders volunteer to empty all remaining raw salad bar items into the compost bins. They carry the bins out to the courtyard and dump the waste into the tumbler. A new addition to the job is stopping by the restrooms at the end of the day to empty paper towel waste from the compost bins that have been added to the main restrooms. The students turn the tumbler daily to mix the brown and green organic matter where it “cooks” and the decomposition process continues.  

As we have discovered so far this year, the process is far from perfect or easy. We produce a lot of green organic matter and have struggled to balance it with enough brown organic matter. The paper towel and napkin waste takes up a lot of volume in the tumbler, and as such, can’t be added everyday. The resulting combination in the tumbler has been very wet and we are working hard to balance it with enough brown matter to dry it out. Our hope is the compost will begin to break down properly and result in some wonderful rich, organic soil that we can then use to plant more lettuce this year in the Drosten Greenhouse!  

Even with all the challenges, the students and staff are committed to working towards a more sustainable Rossman and properly disposing of our waste in environmentally and economically friendly ways. When students and staff “stop and sort” they are exemplifying the three pillars of sustainability by taking care of themselves, taking care of each other, and taking care of this place. We are very proud of their efforts so far this year and look forward to our future progress with educating for sustainability!

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Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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