From lunch trays to garden beds: Hopkinton students compost food waste

Amelia Walsh, an 11th grader, lines the waste collection buckets with newspaper after emptying the food scraps into the composters at the Hopkinton Middle High School

Amelia Walsh, an 11th grader, lines the waste collection buckets with newspaper after emptying the food scraps into the composters at the Hopkinton Middle High School SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

Merrick Chapin, an 11th grader shovels dried leaves to add to the composters at the Hopkinton High Middle School

Merrick Chapin, an 11th grader shovels dried leaves to add to the composters at the Hopkinton High Middle School SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

ABOVE: Students work on an outside bed; LEFT: Amelia Walsh, an 11th grader, lines the waste collection buckets with newspaper after emptying the food scraps into the composters at the Hopkinton Middle High School; RIGHT: Merrick Chapin, an 11th grader, shovels dried leaves to add to the composters at the Hopkinton High Middle School.

ABOVE: Students work on an outside bed; LEFT: Amelia Walsh, an 11th grader, lines the waste collection buckets with newspaper after emptying the food scraps into the composters at the Hopkinton Middle High School; RIGHT: Merrick Chapin, an 11th grader, shovels dried leaves to add to the composters at the Hopkinton High Middle School. SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN / Monitor staff

Owen Lanman, a sixth grader looks at the data of all the compost collected from Maple Street School’s cafeteria 

Owen Lanman, a sixth grader looks at the data of all the compost collected from Maple Street School’s cafeteria  SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

From left to right: Flo Dapice, Amelia Walsh, Merrick Chapin and Evie Hopper, Izzy Afflerbach and Rose Afflerbach with buckets filled with food scraps at the Hopkinton High Middle School

From left to right: Flo Dapice, Amelia Walsh, Merrick Chapin and Evie Hopper, Izzy Afflerbach and Rose Afflerbach with buckets filled with food scraps at the Hopkinton High Middle School SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-28-2024 5:09 PM

Owen Lanman and his friends stood guard near the color-coded bins in Maple Street school’s cafeteria, ensuring every student dumped their lunch leftovers into the appropriate receptacles designated for compost, recycling and landfill.

“I like doing it because I think it’s gross that people are ruining the ocean by dumping all this stuff besides waste,” said Lanman, a sixth grader committed to the school’s eco-conscious efforts.

After each lunch break, students involved in the composting program or the “waste warriors,” weigh each bin to track how much waste they’ve diverted from landfills. Then they take the food waste outside for composting, a ritual of environmental responsibility that has become ingrained in their daily routine.

Hopkinton’s elementary school started its composting program when Amy Rothe, a science teacher, successfully applied for a grant from the Hopkinton Public Schools Foundation in 2018.

“It was something that was really important to me at the time and I think to a lot of the community members to have the schools involved in sustainability and energy management,” said Rothe who has been teaching at the school for five years.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, which hindered the school’s ability to fully engage in composting projects due to remote learning and hybrid schedules, students have managed to divert almost 9,000 pounds of waste from landfills in the past three years by simply sorting it in the cafeteria.

At the back of the school building, Emma Jenkins, also a sixth grader, jumps inside the wooden compost bin filled with dried leaves to remove the snow that had collected over the weekend, making it easier for others to turn the pile.

Meanwhile, the others rotate the compost bins purchased with grant funds, each containing food waste. Once composted, the nutrient-rich matter is spread over the school grounds’ garden beds. Each garden bed is adopted by a classroom, and students can pick what to grow.

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Some opt to plant perennials, while others favor salad greens, vegetables, and berries.

The harvest is either donated to a Hopkinton food pantry or utilized in the cafeteria, and families who volunteer to tend to the garden during the summer harvest the produce for their own use.

For the middle schoolers, composting has become second nature, almost instinctual. But for high schoolers at Hopkinton Middle High School, adjusting to the composting initiative is still a work in progress, with students once again taking the lead through the Environmental Action Club.

“I think it’s really frustrating that some people can recognize that composting is objectively the correct thing to do and yet some people still just are so stubborn,” said Gavin Lawless, treasurer of the club. “You can say as much as you want. You can put as many fliers up as you want, but some people will still choose to be stubborn and just do the wrong thing.”

While the middle school has been diverting food waste for years, yielding enough compost to nurture crops, the high school, which only started this journey this year, is steadily making progress toward environmental sustainability, one bucket at a time, as they prepare to begin growing their own crops.

Additionally, mirroring the middle school’s shift from single-use plastic cutlery to reusable silverware, the high school aspires to make the same eco-friendly transition.

“Even though it’s not as much, it’s still making a difference because it’s consecutively happening, especially with the kitchen and how they actually give us a lot of compost, which is really nice. So I feel like the best thing is probably like, seeing it happen,” reflects Amelia Walsh, an 11th grader, as she lines the waste collection buckets with newspaper after emptying the food scraps into the composters.

Funding for the high school composting program is provided by grants from the New Hampshire Energy Education Project and the Hopkinton Public Schools Foundation.

The implementation of the compost program for preschool through K3 grades at Harold Martin School is also underway.

“I feel like teaching the kids how to make a change is super important. So for me, it’s not just what I do in my house, it’s that I have an outlet here to be able to create change through kids,” said Rothe. “When they go home, they take what they learn here and hopefully they’ll get into the habit of doing this.”