Let’s Compost!

By Emi Gruender

Have you ever taken a look inside one of the many trash cans that dot our campus? If you have, you’re bound to notice the major component of the contents: food. The cafeteria serves the same items every day. The burgers, chicken teriyaki box, benefit bars, and of course, the unpopular and therefore virtually untouched organic food. These food scraps could continue to decompose in dumps unregulated, and create methane as a byproduct, or Westmont could take steps to prevent it. 

My name is Emi Gruender. I am a worker at the cafeteria, and as a result of my close proximity to where the food comes from and where it goes, I have noticed the sheer amounts of unregulated waste on our campus. Before continuing, I want to clarify that this is not a pessimistic article. I do not aim to discourage or scare the readers of The Shield about the enormity of climate change; on the contrary, I want to provide an attainable solution for Westmont’s waste discarding system. 

And there’s a way you could be a part of it.

According to an article from Penn State, research found “plate waste [in schools] ranging from 27% to 53% of the food served” (Mulhollem). Statistically, this means that about 1 out of 2-3 meals taken from the cafeteria are wasted in its entirety.  Public schools produce 1.9% of food waste in the country, which amounts to 36.5 pounds of food per student per year.

If there are approximately 36.5 pounds of food waste per student per year, the amount of wasted food at WHS (with 1600 students) would amount to 58,400 pounds.

That weight is equal to about 146,000 hamburgers, or approximately 3-4 school buses. This estimate is disregarding the students’ tendency to throw away food before they are finished, and the students that do not use the lunch services regularly. 

It is clear that Westmont, along with many other schools, needs to address this enormous food loss, and divert food scraps from the dump. 

Of course, not all food scraps can be given to shelters or composted on Westmont’s premises (like milk, meat, or poultry). However, “students, in all grades, waste vegetables and fruit the most, representing more than 50% of their plate waste” (Mulhollem). If Westmont implemented a system which sorts organic waste from plastic, liquid, or poultry waste, we could cut waste by a massive amount. Implementing said system would take time, but baby steps still count as movement. 

Though there are many other routes Westmont can take on its journey to being more eco-friendly, the goal I am pushing right now is compost because it is the most attainable goal Westmont can achieve. Other goals could include using biodegradable utensils and gloves for the kitchen staff.

With over 800 teenagers getting food from the cafeteria every day, there is more than enough food to create a sizable compost turnout daily. With all of this extra compost, some could be used for the agricultural program or Westmont’s gardening club, but even still there will be much leftover. 

With some cooperation from the District Office, Westmont could start selling its own compost.

Not only would this benefit the school and ASB, but it would also fund a way to start using biodegradable materials that Westmont would not usually be able to afford. 

How would this happen?

On the Westmont campus, there are countless places to have lunch. Most effectively, compost bins would be placed in high-traffic areas, like the quad, wing exits, outside the cafeteria—anywhere that would be most likely for students to throw away food. This strategy would allow convenience, avoiding the need for students to seek out these compost bins. The biggest enemy of new programs is inconvenience, and by pairing high-traffic areas and compost bins, Westmont could avoid this issue. 

In our rapidly decaying world, it is important to recognize environmental issues that humanity has the ability to fix. If I were to get metaphorical explaining this concept, I would compare humanity to a person drowning in a flooded home. The water is already at hip level, but in actuality, humanity is the dog in the burning building.

“This is fine :D”

By composting, we are providing ourselves with a bucket. It’s not a very efficient way to get water out, but a bucket is where you start. In order to truly fix the food waste problem we have at Westmont High school, we can’t just have a way to dispose of food, but a way to reduce the flow.

In a flooded house, it’s helpful to have a bucket and throw it out, but it’s more practical to turn off the spout. 

Of course, I have no idea how to turn off the spigot yet. But huge, audacious changes like these take time, and I think it’s best to start with baby steps. And with this statement I return full circle to my proposition. 

I believe that composting would be beneficial not only to Westmont as a school, but to the environmental well-being of California. 

But I most likely can’t do it alone—without help, it  may not be possible to accomplish something like this at all. If you are interested in implementing this idea with me, please don’t hesitate to reach out with an email. 558971@my.cuhsd.org 

Let’s figure this out. 🙂