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MUHS talks trash, encourages statinability

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School officials usually frown upon folks tossing their trash on the campus lawn.
On Tuesday they encouraged the practice — and ironically, for the future betterment of the environment.
Tuesday was the first-ever “Trash on the Lawn Day” at MUHS, during which students in the district’s Alternative Education program led an effort to collect, sort and analyze all of the garbage that had been tossed into wastebaskets at the school on Monday, Sept. 30. Their goal: Through this unappetizing but admirable waste audit, evaluate the success of current on-campus recycling efforts and determine whether MUHS could justify establishing a composting program for on-site food waste.
Steve Colangeli, a science teacher with the Alternative Education program, explained that his students have been studying environmental sustainability. With that in mind, they have been focusing on the waste stream and ways to reduce it.
“One of the things we realized is that we don’t have a composting program at the school,” Colangeli said. “We have been trying to start one, and one of the questions that came up was, ‘How much is it going to cost?’”
He and his students decided that in order to answer that key question, they needed to get a handle on how much compostable material makes its way into the MUHS waste stream each day. And there was no sugarcoating the assignment, which would require rolling up sleeves, donning gloves and boots, and wading into trash bins and dumpsters.
Participants deposited their smelly cargo — retrieved from waste containers throughout the school, including the cafeteria — onto the circular lawn in front of MUHS on Tuesday morning. Using poking sticks and their bare hands, they separated the trash into three main categories: Recyclable, compostable and true trash. Students logged results on data collection sheets, recording the weight and volume of each category with the aid of 5-gallon buckets and trash bags.
Students were scheduled to spend the ensuing few days analyzing the data in anticipation of preparing a report for the school community.
Colangeli was generally pleased with the early findings of the waste audit. He said the study revealed less overall trash and fewer plastic water bottles than anticipated. The audit produced a total of 500 gallons of trash (before it was sorted) from a building that serves 604 students and 104 faculty and staff.
The Northeast Resource Recovery Association — which provides waste management education programming — will help MUHS and the trash district interpret the results of Tuesday’s waste audit.
“We are finding a lot of food,” Colangeli said. “We do recycle, so this is a snapshot of what we aren’t recycling.”
Colangeli believes the findings will justify the creation of a composting program for food waste. Then it will be up to the school administration to determine whether such a program can be logistically and financially viable.
Don Maglienti, program coordinator with the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, was on hand on Tuesday to help MUHS students with the trash audit. He said the school could choose to pay to have its compostable food scraps taken away periodically by a hauler to Middlebury’s Vermont Natural Ag Products, or establish its own composting facility, as has been done at Vergennes Union High School. An on-site composting facility would require a capital outlay, the purchase of bulking agent to add to the compost and volunteer help to tend to the product. A bulking agent is a material, like wood chips or shavings, added to a mushy compost heap to create spaces through which air can flow, thus aiding in decomposition.
“It really is a private sector-driven program,” Maglienti said of large-scale composting.
“And a lot of the effort is up front in separating the (food waste) at the point of generation.”
Rachael Carter, an 18-year-old MUHS senior, was one of the students helping with Tuesday’s waste audit. Her work included taking photos of the event that will be posted on the school’s Website.
“I think it’s really neat, and I think more schools should do it,” Carter said of the waste audit. “It’s a great experience to learn what recycling and composting really is. It would be really great if we got a composting program here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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