Here’s someone who would be proud to be called The Biggest Loser: Danny Fairchild.
The Dryden school district used to generate 139 tons of waste a year. After elementary teacher Fairchild, a member of the Dryden Faculty Association, created a recycling and composting program, waste has been cut by 46 percent and is down to 75 tons.
“We used to throw away everything generated from the cafeteria,” Dryden said. “Custodians would line up six, 55-gallon barrels…” Each day, they’d be filled with uneaten food, leftover liquids, cartons and all manner of goo and garbage.
Fairchild started a pilot program in the elementary school in 2008. He introduced composting dump lines. Orange juice, milk and other liquids from cartons opened but not finished are dumped into bins. Cartons into another bin. Food into another. Styrofoam trays are collected in another. Paper towel waste is also collected throughout the school.
Students and staff at one elementary school alone used to generate 20 bags of garbage a day. Now it’s down to three — or fewer.
For their efforts, the district has been awarded the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Award for Environmental Excellence — the only K-12 school to be so honored, Fairchild said. It is awarded for leadership and commitment to composting and recycling in the DEC’s Go Green Initiative.
Since the Dryden program began, teacher and student crews have removed 206,000 pounds of food waste by composting it. They’ve recycled 15,200 pounds of milk and juice cartons – or 7.6 tons. This means that 223,600 pounds of cafeteria waste and recycled cartons have been kept out of the landfill.
Not only has this benefited the nation’s overburdened dumping grounds, but it has also saved the district $7,150 in tipping fees that would have been spent on the garbage. After paying for compositing service, the district still came out ahead $4,200.
“It has been a cultural shift through the whole district,” Fairchild said. “It’s become just what we do here at Dryden.”
How it works: An adult Green Team sets up a schedule for the fourth-and fifth-grade student Go Green Lunchroom Ambassador Program. Custodians help with the bathroom paper towel waste pickup, and also help in the lunchroom when needed.
Dryden said the program’s creation was “serendipitous.” It evolved from the fifth-grade eco-systems unit, when the fifth-graders collected all the trash generated in one day in the cafeteria. Everyone was stunned at how much garbage there was, and decided to take action.
The word has spread like fruit flies. Fairchild has visited about a dozen schools, giving presentations on how the Dryden program was set up and how it works.
Now, he says, four other schools are operating similar programs, resulting in a total savings in 500,000 pounds of waste removal. Using statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, Fairchild figures the schools have prevented nearly 50 metric tons of carbon-equivalent gases from being admitted into the atmosphere.
“We’re only five districts. Imagine the impact 5,000 school districts doing what we do would have?” he asked.
The Go Green student ambassadors also collect used paper towels at the end of the day and deliver them to the cafeteria, where custodians put them in the composting bins to prevent smell from getting out and bugs from getting into the bins.
“Many new ideas have been generated from the custodial staff, including new ways to collect and use the bathroom towel waste, how to set up the mini-dump line, how to reuse plastic can liners, and creation of a chain of commands to help reach the right people in something isn’t going right in the cafeteria,” Fairchild said.
A school Sustainability Club helps boost awareness. Members make tote bags out of old t-shirts, sell plants and collect reusable grocery bags. They also provide community homeowners with a free home energy profile report and suggestions for improving energy efficiency.
The finances for the award-winning recycling program are set up in this way: The district pays for the cost of the compositing totes, using savings it gets by not having to pay tipping fees on waste. Tompkins County pays for half of the tote costs from the money it receives from the recyclables that the school generates and from what the county sells as part of the Go Green Initiative. The district also uses a Dryden Youth Opportunity Fund to pay for bus transportation for an annual field trip to the site of the commercial composter and to the Tompkins County Recycling Center.
Students here have also dug in to start a middle and high school garden with raised beds to plant vegetables. They are working with cafeteria staff to have the food grown used in the school lunch program.
For their efforts, the school was named 2009 “Go Green Challenges Winner” by the DEC, which chose it as the number one recycling school in the state. In 2010, they were honored for having the most innovative school recycling and compost program by the same DEC program.
Outreach has been a big component of Fairchild’s green dreams. He’s done presentations at a dozen different schools throughout the state.
“Every school that has started a program like ours has seen tremendous cultural changes in their schools’ attitude toward waste and recycling,” Fairchild said.
To contact Fairchild, who is retiring at the end of this school year but remains committed to recycling projects, e-mail him at email@example.com.
(Danny Fairchild is a member of Dryden Faculty Association)