Community members from York Ready for 100% and high school students are starting a pilot composting program at York High School. Members from left to right include Fred Weston, Victoria Simon, Neil Rideout and first-year students Thomas Holly, Cole Thompson and Ella Moon. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — York residents may want to do their part to reduce, reuse and recycle, a local sustainability group says, but may not know how to go about the “reduce” part of the equation — reducing trash and waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill while also contributing to more sustainable personal practices.

But York Ready for 100% is hoping that a new pilot composting program at York High School will not only get teenagers thinking about how they dispose of trash and waste, but also serve as a model to bring the rest of the schools and ultimately residents and businesses on board.

The Waste Reduction and Diversion subcommittee of York Ready for 100% spearheaded the idea, and it quickly gained the approval and interest of high school staff members and students alike. And just recently, the group received a $3,701 grant from the selectmen’s new sustainability fund to start the program.

“The high school seemed like a good place to start,” said committee member Victoria Simon, not only because older students would need less monitoring to properly dispose of their cafeteria meal waste, but because they might begin then incorporating their practices into their home life. Thus, Simon said, they begin to draw in family members and perhaps a business-owning parent or two in town.

As proposed, the pilot program will begin in November and continue throughout the school year. York-based Mr. Fox will provide the composting service. The high school’s head custodian, Neil Rideout, will construct two waste stations in The Commons for sorting compost, trash, recyclables and returnables, which students will use to dispose of waste at the end of lunch.

A key to the success of the high school program is the recent formation of an Eco Club, organized by student Daphne Gignac, who was involved in the town’s successful polystyrene ban campaign. Club members “will take the lead in terms of monitoring” their follow students, to make sure that the waste from lunches is placed in the proper bins, Simon said.

“We felt like Daphne could be a real mover and shaker. She’s had four meetings so far, and eight kids have fully committed. We’re really excited about their involvement,” Simon said.

Gignac said she started the club “as a way to translate the student body’s passion for sustainability into action. There are so many changes to be made pertaining to the environment on a societal and behavioral level, and these changes must start with the youth. So why not the youth of York High School?”

She said the composting program “seems like a natural first step, as it’s vital we remove biodegradable, high-methane waste from our landfill.” She said while the members will start by monitoring trash and waste disposal during lunch, they also intend to “educate students on the program’s importance.”

One of Rideout’s duties is to track the results of the composting program, by weighing the amount of waste being diverted to composting. “This will enable us to track the total amount of waste being diverted from the dumpster service and the estimated amount of greenhouse gases being eliminated from the atmosphere,” according to the Waste Reduction and Diversion subcommittee application to selectmen. The committee will then work with Chris Rynne, director of building and grounds, to convert waste diverted into actual cost savings for the school department.

As an example, the application states, the Poland school district began composting last year and is predicting net savings of $3,500 annually by removing 45 tons of compostable waste from their waste stream. This equates to 340,000 pounds of greenhouse gases, according to the application.

Committee member Fred Weston looks to statistics compiled by Project Drawdown, a resource on climate change. “It lists the top 100 solutions available today to reduce global warming. Composting food waste is No. 60. So this is an important target.”

Project Drawdown reports that approximately 50 percent of garbage that goes into landfills and incinerators is food waste. Weston said he recently visited the Cassella transfer station in Lewiston, where York’s garbage is hauled. “The supervisor said the majority of garbage they receive is food waste. He approximated 65 percent. Wow!”

Carrie Mayo, who recently held at successful beach cleanup and marshaled volunteers to make a “No Planet B” human sign, is also a member of the committee. “Reducing consumption in my opinion is the key action item that everyday citizens can act on in order to help reduce the use/need of resources to produce them in the first place. In fact, we can eliminate organic waste if we divert it properly which will fertilize the soil, save money and reduce pollution.”

The high school’s assistant principal, Michael Bennett, said in a letter of support to the sustainability fund grant application that the administration is “fully behind this, with the hope to reduce food waste from the dumpster waste stream.” Further he said, he’s hoping that the pilot program “will lead to the adoption of composting throughout the York School District.”

Simon said sees this pilot acting like a series of dominoes. The stated aim of York Ready for 100% is to bring rank and file residents into the sustainability fold as the town seeks to meet a standard of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. “If there’s enthusiasm for this, we might start promoting it to the residents and businesses and try to get everyone on board.”

Members of the committee, in addition to Simon, Weston and Mayo, are Doreen McGillis of the York Land Trust and York historian James Kences. Members of the school group, in addition to Gignac, Rynne, Bennett and Rideout, are teacher and Eco Club adviser Rob Munn, Pathways director Sarah McGraw and Whitney Thornton, food and nutrition director.

This story appears through a media partnership with The Lincoln County News.

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