Zero waste school lunch pilot program launched at Lahaina Intermediate School
LAHAINA – When Gretchen Losano, co-founder of West Maui Green Cycle, approached Grow Some Good about a garden coordinator position, inspiration for a new pilot program with Lahaina Intermediate School was born.
In her letter, she proposed a different option for the position via mentorship with the Windward Zero Waste School Hui, a school food waste composting program started by Mindy Jaffe on Oahu.
“I am bringing the method to Maui, and I can envision the most perfect partnership with your incredible program,” she wrote.
That was mid-September. The school garden at Lahaina Intermediate School had totally overgrown during the summer, and Grow Some Good’s budget for hiring a school garden coordinator for one day a week was a tough match for a space that needed lots of work to make it safe for classes to begin.
“On Gretchen’s first visit to the school campus, our focus quickly shifted from rebuilding a garden to zero waste and soil building,” said Kathy Becklin, Grow Some Good executive director.
In mid-November, Losano ran an audit to see how much waste the cafeteria was producing.
“What I saw was so extensive, I couldn’t stand to see it go to the landfill,” Losano said.
So, she built her first compost piles that day.
Working closely with the school’s principal and food service manager, Losano was hired to manage the Zero Waste Program pilot in the cafeteria.
She collected buckets and bought equipment to set up the first phase of the compost system, located just outside the cafeteria in a large, sunny open land area adjacent to the school garden. The space was already equipped with a large pile of wood chips perfect for composting and easy access for future drop-offs from local tree trimmers.
More than 730 sixth to eighth grade students attend Lahaina Intermediate School. During the school’s three lunch periods, Losano and student helpers are collecting and diverting 150 to 200 pounds of food waste per day.
Instead of throwing everything away in trash bins, they sort drinks, food, plastics, cardboard trays, unused and unopened items, and non-recyclable trash. Food waste is then carried in buckets to the Zero Waste Station, where it is converted into compost.
Grow Some Good’s program manager, Scott Lacasse, filmed a sneak peek video on the process during a recent visit.
“When students are first-hand witnesses and participate in diverting massive amounts of waste from the landfill, they understand that they are part of something much bigger,” said Losano
After school, Losano and her daughter, Kaliko, separate and measure single-use plastic waste, such as plastic utensils, and fruit cups, filling a 13-gallon bag every day.
She’s saving the overstuffed plastic bags to give students, parents and community leaders a visual demonstration of the importance of reducing single-use plastics on Maui.
While several islands have passed bans on some of the highest volume waste products – on Maui (styrofoam), Big Island (styrofoam) and Oahu (single-use plastic) – reducing product use is slow.
“When you look at the scope of this issue on Maui and the system that needs to be built to divert waste islandwide, it can seem overwhelming,” Becklin said. “Students at Lahaina Intermediate are starting by addressing what’s right in front of them and modeling a path to better solutions for waste reduction on Maui.”
Since 2008, Gretchen has been involved in statewide advocacy initiatives to help Hawaii legislators and students to understand the consequences of using styrofoam and plastic on the environment.
“The products are still out there, and single-use plastics are out of control. None of it is being recycled,” Gretchen said. “Diverting waste from the landfill isn’t just a good thing to do. It’s the only way we’re going to survive.”
Several other schools have expressed interest in the Zero Waste Program. Growing outreach at this stage requires additional funding to cover basic supplies, such as hand carts, buckets, tarps, gloves and other compositing equipment. Funding also supports staff training and labor. On average, it takes three to four hours a day to oversee collection and processing of food waste from the cafeteria.
Grow Some Good is just $10,000 short of its funding goal to complete the 2019-20 Zero Waste Program pilot. Please consider making a donation toward the continuation of this important pilot through the end of the school year.