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.”