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Carmel High School students’ compost initiative in lunch room

Carmel High School students create compost program in cafeteria

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — One ton of food, that’s what Carmel High School has taken out of landfills in just one month.

They did this using a concept that is common on the West Coast but isn’t as widely used in the Midwest.

It may look like your average high school cafeteria, but what is happening at Carmel High School has turned into one of the largest composting programs for any school in Indiana.

Three Carmel High School sophomores went to a leadership camp at Butler University over the summer. They were challenged to create an initiative that would impact their community. Thus became the high school’s new Environmental Club and the idea to start a compost program in their cafeteria.

“A lot of the food that is wasted goes and sits in landfills and it actually makes up 35% of all landfills and that sits and rots into methane gas, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” said Maanya Rajash, one of the students who created the initiative at Carmel High School.

The school says the transition was fairly seamless.

“So it is really just the excess material from fresh fruits and veggies we were generating in the morning and we generate probably two buckets, two to three buckets just from that a day,” said Holly Huepenbecker-Hull, food service manager at Carmel High School.

The food that can be separated into compost as opposed to thrown in the trash is fairly simple.

“Anything that comes from the ground can go back to compost,” said Huepenbecker-Hull.

In just one week, Carmel High School fills about 29 bins amounting to nearly 500 pounds of food that would normally be going to a landfill. But because of this project, now that 500 pounds of food gets turned into soil.

“In this particular one, we serve probably serve around 3,000 kids a day,” said Huepenbecker-Hull.

“As of Feb. 17, I believe it is 1,820 pounds of compost, so just under 1 ton of food has been composted,” said Grace Belt, another student who helped create the initiative.

The cafeteria workers also separate compostable material from the lunch leftovers. At the end of the day, the bins are loaded onto the dock to wait to be collected once a week by Earth Mama, a local composting company.

“The environmental impact that we are making here in just under a month that we are making in one cafeteria, imagine if we put this in multiple cafeterias in multiple schools it would just have a huge environmental impact,” said Sarah Patel, the other student who helped start the initiative.

“Our staff is thrilled to be able to do something like this just to know we are keeping food out of the landfill and actually turning it into something useful,” said Huepenbecker-Hull.

Right now, there are only two schools within the Carmel Clay School District that do a composting program. The girls who started the program say their goal is to get every school in the Carmel Clay district on board with this composting initiative.