Did you know that organic waste (food scraps, leftovers, vegetable and fruit peels) represents 30% of an average family’s waste? When your organic waste goes to the general trash, it will most likely end up in landfill or the incinerator, impacting our environment and climate by becoming source of greenhouse gas emissions, and polluting the nearby rivers, lands and seas.
Composting means that you give organic waste the right conditions to transform into a healthy soil that can be used to grow vegetables, plants and herbs!
Of course, the focus must be to reduce food waste first, not only because food leftovers and perished vegetables are often avoidable, but also because of the amount of energy, water and space which was required to produce the food. However, some organic waste is inevitable, and that is when composting becomes a key part of waste reduction.
Zero Waste Shanghai has made it one of its core missions to raise awareness about the importance of composting organic waste. And, yes, it is possible, and even easy to compost in Shanghai!
As some parents might have experienced when their children suddenly didn’t let them use plastic bags when grocery shopping, schools play a central role in raising awareness about sustainability and environmental protection. Education is key to changing mentalities and adopting new habits.
An example of this happened recently in Shanghai. Concordia International School Shanghai called Zero Waste Shanghai to help organize a composting workshop for eighty students, aged between 9 and 12 years old. During a two-hour fun and interactive activity, students were introduced to the waste issue, the zero waste lifestyle and then got to make their very own compost bin to bring back home!
“I thought the workshop was organized, informative, and engaging for students. I appreciated the take-home aspect of the compost bin as well as the professionalism of the volunteers in each room. This was a great opportunity for our Grade 4 students to truly “take home” their learning around environmental stewardship.”
Ryan Maney, STEM Instructional Coach at Concordia International School Shanghai
Concordia International School has launched a pioneering composting program for its elementary school cafeteria with the support and participation of its entire community!
The school has mobilized students, teachers and parents from its conception, to daily maintenance and compost use. This inspiring story shows us the importance of the school community in supporting greener practices, and can be an inspiration for all of us trying to promote environmental protection!
Ryan Maney, a math/science instructional coach who brought the composting program to CISS, agreed to share with us their experience introducing composting at school.
Could you explain to us what type of composting system you have put in place and how does it work?
After prototyping and collaborating with multiple stakeholders on campus, we decided on the Bokashi Anaerobic Composting System. Bokashi allowed us to ferment/compost all of the organic waste without the need for food service ayis and/or students to sort through food waste that could and could not be composted.
Every day at 1 pm, ayis deliver all the food waste from the elementary school (about 450 students). It is then taken over by 4 students who weigh the daily food waste, place it into our Bokashi compost bins, and set them outside in our repurposed shelving system, designed by Concordia Middle School design students and their teachers. Every morning, students will come in to remove the Bokashi bins that have been fermenting for 2 weeks. We then mix the prepared Bokashi food waste into depleted soil.
After two weeks of fermenting in the Bokashi bin, the food is ready to be added to soil where it finishes the decomposition process after another 3-4 weeks. After 5-6 weeks, you have healthy nutritious soil.
Why did you decide to set up this composting system, and how has composting changed students' perception on food waste and general waste issues?
Our high school students were instrumental in helping us choose the composting system that would best meet the needs of the elementary school. The high school students helped us identify a composting system that was efficient and easy to maintain use when working with younger students. This system also allowed multiple groups of students access to the project and the initiative. Once we identified a composting system, I had 4 classrooms in the elementary school that piloted the use of the Bokashi system.
Composting on a daily basis has created an awareness in our student community about the power of stewardship. In my time working with Grade 4 students, I have heard students describe their amazement that uneaten food can be returned back to the Earth and reused again as something positive.
How have the students been involved in the program, and how do you think "green programs" at school can strengthen the school community?
I have mentioned many of the ways that students have been involved in this project. A program such as this has created opportunities for students to learn through service. Our Grade 4 team created an inquiry-based serving learning unit around the question of:
“What is Food Waste, and why is it a Problem?”
Through this guided inquiry, students created age-specific campaign messages that shared their learnings as well as tips that students could follow in order to reduce their impact of food waste on the environment. They also took the first step in making meaningful change in the cafeteria by working with our food services company to reduce portion sizes.
So once the compost is ready, how are you using it?
Before beginning this project, we wanted to ensure that there was a meaningful end product for the compost. This was secured through one of our Concordia families who own and manage 500jia Organic Farm on Chongming Island. They have created the “Concordia Farm Plot.” This is where our composted soil goes to be used as a growing place for new produce. It has also allowed our Grade 4 students to see the final cycle of food waste being returned back to the Earth.
Any advice for schools or teachers who wish to set up a composting program at their school?
As you can tell, this is not about one person, but a community. My advice would be leverage and empower the strengths and passions of your community and then get out of the way! Create opportunities for collaboration and innovation while maintaining the priority of learning through service. It is the people that make projects like this work, not one person’s idea.