Area schools learn to compost

Athol Daily News Staff
Published: 7/12/2018 10:58:44 PM
Modified: 7/12/2018 10:58:56 PM

The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District has reached a milestone: 25 public schools throughout the county, including seven high schools, divert all food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens into compost programs. Students at all of these schools, including Warwick Community School, Erving Elementary and Swift River Elementary, have been taught to separate trash and recyclables from leftover food and paper waste, in many cases reducing trash coming from their cafeterias and kitchens by 80 percent. 

All types of food and paper waste are sent to a local commercial compost facility, such as Martin’s Farm in Greenfield, for composting. Commercial composting is a waste-handling method in which food and paper wastes are placed in a separate barrel and then put in a dedicated compost dumpster. The dumpster is emptied weekly and the organic material is hauled to a local commercial composting facility. At these facilities, large volumes of compostable materials are shredded and placed in large piles called windrows. The materials decompose at a higher temperature than in a backyard compost bin, making it possible to compost all types of food, including meat, bones, poultry, fats, and dairy.

Students and staff also compost paper waste, such as paper napkins, paper towels, paper lunch trays, paper food “boats,” paper soup bowls, and paper milk cartons. Many of the school compost programs collect about 75 pounds of compostable waste each day, reducing the contents of the trash barrel to less than 10 pounds.

Clear View Composting in Orange composts the food and paper waste from Swift River Elementary School in New Salem, while Martin’s Farm in Greenfield processes the majority of the compostable material from the Franklin County schools.

Five Franklin County schools have been composting for more than 15 years, making their programs some of the first in the state. The following is a list of the seven public high schools in the county that currently separate cafeteria and kitchen food waste for composting, and the year the compost program started: Pioneer Valley Regional School, Four Rivers Charter Public School, Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School, Mohawk Trail Regional School, Frontier Regional School, Greenfield High School and Franklin County Technical School. Five of the seven also have middle schools participating.

Why compost?

Composting saves money, according to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. Landfills, incinerators and waste haulers charge an average of $75 per ton to dispose of trash, whereas compost facilities charge about $45 per ton to accept food and paper waste. 

Massachusetts is faced with limited landfill space — all landfills in the state are scheduled to close within 10 years. Municipalities and waste haulers have begun to send waste out of state by truck or rail, which will raise the cost and carbon footprint of trash disposal.

Composting slows climate change, said FCSWM officials. As anaerobic bacteria in landfills consume nitrogen-rich food waste, they release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The process of composting, however, includes oxygen, and that invites a different type of bacteria. The aerobic bacteria in a compost pile does not emit methane, unlike anaerobic bacteria in the landfill. Composting transforms waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, reduces the need to water lawns and gardens, adds minerals to soil, and improves soil structure.

Regional efforts

Franklin County is a statewide leader in school, municipal and event compost programs. Eight Franklin County

transfer stations accept compostable waste free from residents: Orange, New Salem and Wendell in the North Quabbin region, as well as Bernardston, Greenfield, Leverett, Northfield and Whately. Materials are sent to a commercial compost facility. Many restaurants, markets, food businesses, and events also compost.

Franklin County Solid Waste District lends its special event recycle and compost bins and signs to more than 40 special events each year. For more information, contact the Solid Waste District at 413-772-2438 or email: Also, visit:

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