Food waste becomes soil for new food

High school gets its first rocket composter
The rocket composter at Secaucus High School.
The rocket composter at Secaucus High School.

Secaucus High School students are about to get a lesson in environmental sustainability, thanks to a rocket composter that the town’s environmental department purchased this past summer.
The department purchased the composter with a $24,750 state Bonus Recycling Grant. It’s part of a food waste recycling program to begin at the school later this fall.
Rocket composters are designed to transform food and organic wastes into compost, which is organic fertilizer. The compost can then be used in green areas such as lawns and gardens. Unlike regular composters, rocket composters usually have chambers to break down food waste in much shorter time.
“About 30 percent of the trash that we throw away as Americans is food waste,” said town Environmental Director Amanda Nesheiwat. “And that food waste is going straight into a landfill. We’re teaching kids to really understand waste management, and to understand that the things we throw away have an effect on the environment. Food waste can be recycled, it can be reused, and it can be used as nutrition for the soil.”

“About 30 percent of the trash that we throw away as Americans is food waste.” – Amanda Nesheiwat


When the school’s composter goes online, cafeteria staff will be first to use it, Nesheiwat said.
“The things that kitchen staff throw away, such as eggshells and peeled fruits and veggies, whatever else they throw away—now we’re going to actually capture it, remove it from the waste stream, and put it into a composter,” Nesheiwat said.
Students at environmental and science clubs at the middle and high school complex will be in charge of grabbing food waste after their lunch periods and placing it into the composter. During the final phase, sometime next year, the entire student body will have access to the composter, Nesheiwat said. It will be located outside the cafeteria door. It should be up and running within the next few weeks.
The environmental department has also created a PowerPoint presentation they hope to present to the students by the end of the month, teaching them about how to operate the composter.
Nesheiwat said students will be trained in using it. “You’re going to have to put equal parts leaves and woodchips,” she said. “You have to mix the food waste with other organic material in order for it to break down properly.”
The department doesn’t plan on stopping with the composter. “We hope to have a town-wide food waste recycling program at some point,” Neshwiwat said. “We’re currently in talks with the county to see if we can actually pull it off.”
That program could take the form of a company coming and collecting food waste from participating households, she said.
Composters could come to elementary schools if funding comes through.
“There’s still a lot of things we need to work out,” said Ron Mroz, a science teacher at the middle school and advisor for the school’s environmental club. “But the overall idea of it is very good.”
He said material from the composter could be used for a greenhouse the high school uses. And the benefits don’t stop there.
“The more that we recycle, the less than you have going into the garbage trucks, and the less the town is charged for that,” Mroz said. “So you’re saving the town money, and we’re not putting a lot of waste into the landfill. So it’s pretty much a win-win situation. Students will run it and see then benefit of it, and that’s the ultimate goal, project-based learning.”

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