District cuts costs by reducing waste

Salida Union’s recycling and pulping program has cut waste by 75%.

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

One school district has found a way to make green by going green.

Earlier this year Salida Union School District, in California, started a waste reduction program at one elementary school. The program, a combination of recycling and pulping, reduces one school’s trash by 75%.

Salida now recycles cardboard—which is baled and sold—metal cans, plastic and polystyrene products, including Styrofoam. Waste that cannot be recycled is being pulped and converted into a material that potentially be used as a fertilizer for grass.

For Billy Reid, director of child nutrition services, the styrene component is the most exciting. “There are so many products that are styrene and that’s the bulk of the volume that goes into the waste stream,” Reid says. “We see our greatest reduction in volume and cost savings on waste removal once we remove the Styrofoam. I have [starting buying] everything possible to Styrofoam or styrene.” That includes knives, forks and spoons.

Those styrene products are melted into blocks and picked up by a company, which pays Reid for the blocks. The company then uses the blocks to create items such as car bumpers, flowerpots and picture frames. The company is then donating the frames to the school, where students will decorate them and then sell them to parents. That’s a win-win, according to Reid. “That creates non-food fundraising, which fits in with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” he says.

To sort the recycled products, the district’s maintenance team built a custom cabinet with compartments for cardboard, tin cans, plastic, styrene and waste. Each compartment has photos next to it so the students can see what items go in what compartment. The trays are stacked in the bottom of the cabinet.

After all the recyclables have been removed from the waste stream, the school’s trash is reduced from 25 garbage cans per day to between six and eight. Those six garbage cans of trash are picked up by a district employee—the position was created specifically for the waste reduction program—and brought to the central warehouse, where a pulper room was built.

Once the trash is brought to the room, the containers are lifted by a can tipper and their contents dumped onto a table. The trash is then scraped into the pulper, which adds water to create a slurry. The slurry is then pumped into a hydroextractor, which removes the moisture. At this point, the six cans of waste that Reid started with has been reduced by about 85%. The waste then goes into a dehydrator, which turns it into a sawdustlike material. At this point, the waste has been reduced by another 10%.

After the process, which takes about nine hours, is complete, the six garbage cans of waste have been turned into a one-gallon bag of sawdustlike material.

Reid says that he fills less than one garbage can of the sawdust product each week. “You’re looking at an entire week’s worth of waste, minus the recyclables, for one school in less than a garbage can.”

As an added bonus: Garbage bags have been eliminated. Trash and recycling now go directly into garbage cans. And by recycling Styrofoam trays, Reid sees an additional cost saving. “I pay 3 cents for a Styrofoam tray,” he says. “I can pay 8 to 12 cents for a biodegradable one. But the minute it comes into contact with food you can compost it but you can’t recycle it. The fastest composting system I could find was 45 to 60 days. My process is nine to 10 hours.” 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
nuts

We decided through focus group feedback that our freshmen struggled with the allergy-friendly options or options for students with diabetes on campus. In response, we decided to have a dinner the first few weeks of classes to let some of these students know what was available and let them network with their peers and others with allergies or diabetes. NC State Dining chefs prepared menu items based on foods from cultures around the world. ... From delicious sliced sweet potatoes to savory Ikarian-style roasted chicken, students were able to sample global dishes free of allergens.

Ideas and Innovation
coffee cups

We started a monthly Coffee Hour with just the department director. The goal is to gather 
staff feedback about their jobs and answer individual questions. After the first event, 
several staff members emailed stating they just wanted to meet with the director without 
their supervisors. Now, the meetings offer an opportunity for more of a one-on-one conversation without the presence of the supervisor they 
deal with day in and day out.

Ideas and Innovation
salad

We’re currently piloting a Salad Bar Happy Hour 
in Cafe 16. Due to Health Department regulations, any self-serve salad bar items must be disposed of after service. The salad bar goes “on sale” for 25 cents an ounce post-lunchtime to help reduce waste as well as offer value to customers.

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

FSD Resources