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South Kitsap School District expanding compost program

Olalla Elementary School sixth-graders Rachel Baker, center, and Katie Poplin, right, watch as Jo Meintz of Kitsap County’s Solid Waste Division weighs the food waste collected during one of the school
Olalla Elementary School sixth-graders Rachel Baker, center, and Katie Poplin, right, watch as Jo Meintz of Kitsap County’s Solid Waste Division weighs the food waste collected during one of the school's lunch programs.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

All the elementary schools in the South Kitsap School District will soon be sorting and composting their garbage thanks to an expansion of the Food to Flowers program launched by Kitsap County’s Solid Waste Division.

Still in its pilot phase, the program began at Sunnyslope Elementary School earlier this year, and was so successful that the district and the county decided to expand it.

Toni Fuller, who works in the county’s Solid Waste Division and helps implement the program in local Schools along with Jo Meintz, said Sunnyslope Elementary diverted three tons of organic waste from going to a landfill, saving the district $156 a month.

The program has students and staff at each school sort their lunch waste into recyclables, food waste and trash, thereby keeping items that can be recycled or composted from being thrown away.

Fuller said the school has contracted with New Day Recycling, which transports the collected material to North Mason Fiber Company, where it is “composted into a nutrient-rich, natural soil amendment.”

Fuller said the county is paying for New Day Recycling to haul the collected material through the school year, and the money for that is provided by a grant from the Department of Energy. The schools are also helped with the purchase of the sorting carts.

On Wednesday, Meintz and Fuller were at Olalla Elementary School, which is the first school to implement the program this fall.

“It is so cool to see the kids in action,” Fuller said. “Kids get it.”

Along with helping student “sorters” Rachel Baker and Katie Poplin, both Olalla sixth-graders, get all the waste off the trays and in its proper place, Fuller said she and Meintz were helping all the students make better choices about what they put on their trays in the first place.

“We saw one boy with about 12 orange slices on his tray, and told him that maybe tomorrow he might think about only taking two,” she said. “That’s our message, to reduce all waste.”

“The kids are really excited,” said Olalla Elementary Principal Karen Butler, explaining that the principles of sorting garbage were also being observed in the kitchen and staff room.

Butler said the program was a perfect fit for her school, which is based in a rural, environmentally aware community, and aligns with its goal of becoming a Washington Green School.

“Starting this will give us 100 points,” Butler said, explaining that schools need to earn 100 points a year for five years to earn the voluntary designation.

Next week, Meintz and Fuller will move on to South Colby, then in the weeks after will visit Sidney Glen, Mullenix Ridge, East Port Orchard, Burley Glenwood and Orchard Heights elementary schools.

Fuller said the eventual goal is to implement the program to all the schools in the district, including the junior highs and high school.

According to Kitsap County’s Solid Waste Division, more than 200,000 tons of garbage is generated annually in Kitsap County, and a “conservative estimate” has 20 percent of it being food waste or other organics. The Food to Flowers program is designed to reduce that percentage.

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