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Stephen Foster Elementary’s Waste Reduction Program wins Innovative Idea Award

(Photo: Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Public Schools)
(Photo: Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Public Schools)

When students at Stephen Foster Elementary School throw out lunch scraps, they are thinking about pigs. "If you can't eat it, the pigs can't either," is a popular saying among students. The cafeteria waste at Foster Elementary is sorted into three bins: milk, food or trash. The food scraps are dehydrated and placed into a composting accelerator. The final product is given to The Family Garden farm for pig feed. Foster Elementary launched the pilot program of its Waste Reduction Project in May and has recycled 2,500 pounds of food waste so far this year.  Food Service manager Zackerie Williams is responsible for dehydrating and composting food waste. "It is awesome to see that we are helping reduce waste in Gainesville but also teaching the next generation how to do it properly," said Williams.  On Friday, the Waste Reduction Project earned the Alachua County Food and Nutrition Services an Innovative Idea Award from the Florida School Nutrition Association.  Last year, Food and Nutrition Services received a $37,000 grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for a food recovery project. Supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services Caron Rowe said the money was used to purchase equipment, including a custom sorting station, a dehydrator, and a composting accelerator to be used for the project.  She said Foster Elementary was selected for the project because it always expressed an interest in sustainability.  "The kids have been excited to know that what they're doing is going to feed the pigs," said Rowe. "They find that thrilling." Williams said the program has been successful but is facing a few challenges. Some of the students are struggling to sort trash.  "We have orange slices that come in plastic bags," he said. "Younger kids have a harder time understanding that the orange slices are food, but the plastic is not.” Students created a news package for the morning announcements to teach others how to sort food properly. Additionally, Foster is launching a student ambassador initiative in which selected students will serve as lunch captains and help other students sort waste.  Verena Vancil is the dietitian for Food and Nutrition Services and handles the program's logistics.  She said feeding local pigs is only the beginning of the Waste Reduction Project.  "The goal is to continue adding more things [programs] so that more waste is diverted from the landfill," she said. "Things like reusable trays and reusable silverware and reducing packaging to become zero waste." The program will expand to four other elementary schools. "The project is creating awareness that each student is a part of the collective effort to reduce waste," said Vancil. "It is fostering a sense of community through that shared effort." 

Janelle is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.