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
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources