Ecology Club reducing CHS cafeteria trash by more than 70 percent
CHELMSFORD, MA (Oct. 7, 2022) – There is still a bit of coaching to do as Chelmsford High School students approach the waste bins near the end of lunch on a recent Tuesday, but they’re getting the gist.
The result of a one-day trash audit last March, the Ecology Club at CHS has gone all in on composting food waste from all three lunch periods. In its third week, the effort has made significant progress, but Ecology Club advisor/chemistry teacher Dr. Somi Chowdhury and club members still need to be present at lunch to direct students where to place their waste.
“I would say 80 percent of the students know what they’re doing,” said Dr. Chowdhury, in her third year at CHS. “I see the change in our students’ attitude. They’re really getting the hang of it.”
Dr. Chowdhury and the Ecology Club are hopeful 100 percent of the students will compost properly by November to eliminate the need for club members to supervise at the bins (the club could use a few move volunteers).
“The goal is to wane our students off our volunteers so that they will know to do it themselves,” Dr. Chowdhury noted.
Last Spring’s trash audit revealed two astonishing figures:
- Firstly, that 72 percent of what students put in the trash could be composted.
- Second, that CHS produces 900 pounds of compostable waste each week, all of which would have otherwise been discarded in landfills.
The Town of Chelmsford Department of Public Works, which assisted with the March audit, has been an enthusiastic supporter. It has provided CHS with the proper composting bins and secured the needed funding for weekly removal by Black Earth Compost.
The effort is not without its challenges, however. Along with the need for more volunteers to oversee disposal, the most significant issue is contamination, when a non-compostable item – such as a plastic straw – is erroneously mixed with the compost.
“It will take a lot of consistency from the student body,” said sophomore Jennifer Yu, who serves as the co-president alongside junior Hope Kamara. “As Dr. Chowdhury mentioned, it’s important that we sort out the compost carefully each day. Although it may take a bit of effort, we need to keep contamination down as it keeps overall costs down for the school. This is the only way we can ensure the longevity of the program.”
The reduction in trash and 900 pounds of soil enrichment are significant achievements and Ms. Yu is quick to emphasize that help has come from all sides: from the Town of Chelmsford Sustainability Manager Chris Haley to the DPW and Recycling Committee; CHS custodians, the Chelmsford Climate Action Team, parent volunteers and Principal Steve Murray.
“We really couldn’t have done any of this without all the support we’ve received from the community,” Ms. Yu said. “To us, this is a lot more than just an initiative. It has really become a vessel for interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s brought out the best in all of us.”
The Ecology Club meets each Wednesday at CHS. To get involved, contact Ms. Yu via Instagram (@chs.eco.club) or e-mail (email@example.com).
To volunteer for the composting effort, contact Dr. Chowdhury at ext. 5649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Chelmsford Public Schools
The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential. This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students. For more information, please visit www.chelmsfordschools.org.