From Garbage to Garden: New Cafeteria Recycling Program

  • Posted by Saint Paul Public Schools on October 5, 2017

    Organics recycling at school

    A new recycling program is reducing the amount of garbage generated in cafeterias and saving money at the same time.

    The new “Organics for Composting” program increases the types of waste SPPS can capture and repurpose.

    “Instead of food scraps only, which we previously collected and trucked to hog farms, our cafeterias now collect paper products like napkins, paper boats, and even compostable trays,” says Chelsea Moody, who coordinates the program for the district’s Environmental Services Group.

    “Walter’s, which collects our garbage and recycling, also collects the compostable materials,” said Moody, adding that the district saves money as a result.

    The scraps go to Specialized Environmental Technologies (SET) in Rosemount. Unlike home composting, SET’s advanced technology allows it to mix all food and food-soiled paper with yard waste to create nutrient-rich compost, which it then sells via The Mulch Store. Moody says this year SPPS expects to compost significantly more than the nearly 1,800 tons of food scraps it sent to hog farms last year.

    Moody says students have quickly adapted to the new sorting process. When they finish eating,  they dispose of any wrappers or non-recyclable plastic items in the garbage. Then they put all remaining food -- including meat and bones -- and paper goods in the compost container. Recyclable items like empty milk and juice cartons go in the recycling bin. Finally, students stack their now-empty trays.

    While reusable plastic trays are common they are not practical for every school. When disposable trays are needed, SPPS is making the switch to compostable trays.

    “By the end of the year, all schools that need disposable trays will use compostable trays,” says Moody, who notes that SPPS will use up its inventory of styrofoam trays before making the switch to compostable trays across the district.