Lila Rubin | February 7, 2019
Among the many new features of the renovated dining experience at Greenhills are the green bins sitting in the corner of the lunchroom. What are these for, you might ask? The answer: composting. PlumSmart has incorporated this eco-friendly method of waste disposal into Greenhills’ daily life. Composting is the process of turning organic waste like food and dead plants into mulch that can be used in gardens and more. As a result of the new bins, all lunchroom food waste goes back to the earth, including the plates, utensils, and cups provided by PlumSmart. Even the garbage bags are compostable. This eco-friendly dining is a great opportunity for the Greenhills community to educate ourselves and act against food waste in our daily lives.
When interviewing students about their knowledge of the composting process at Greenhills, I found some interesting results. While around 90% of interviewees knew our school composts, only 72% knew why (answer: to better the environment). The most interesting data I found, however, was that no interviewees knew where the compost goes after the green bins. Even I didn’t. To discover the secrets of the after-bin process, I’d have to dig deeper into the PlumSmart system.
And so, I went to the woman who I knew would have the answers: Ms. Francine Mays, the head chef of our lunchroom. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me and explain the inner-workings of the kitchen. Here’s how the PlumSmart composting process works.
- You eat. Yum!
- You throw your leftovers (hopefully not a lot!) into the green bins.
- MyGreenMichigan Composting, a compost transport company, comes Tuesday and Friday to pick up the waste and delivers it to Hammond Farms on the outskirts of Lansing.
- Hammond Farms composts the food completely within 90 days of receiving it.
- The resulting mulch is sold at the Hammond Farms Store.
- Our food nourishes plants and soil all around Michigan!
This process is a relatively simple one, very similar to how regular garbage is disposed of, and it’s better for the environment and beneficial to farmers in the area. The choice between normal garbage disposal and composting is easy. However, food waste remains a prevalent issue in our society. In one week, 5,715 high schoolers produce one ton of food waste. That’s about the equivalent of the four Ann Arbor public high schools - Pioneer, Huron, Skyline, and Community - and Greenhills. This isn’t counting the elementary and middle schools in the area, which have been shown to produce the same amount of waste with even fewer students. Even though we compost, it doesn’t mean we can shed worries about the amount of food we put on our plate and don’t eat. PlumSmart takes this into account. Says Ms. Mays, “We do the math… if we’re trying to fix 600 meat meals and we’re gonna give 4 oz portions then we have to allow for shrinkage and it’s just basically math… It depends on the type of meat. We allow for seconds, so we’ll have a cushion… we’ll allow 100 extra portions or 50 extra portions because we think ‘they might want seconds,’ or you know ‘they might not eat this as well.’
It’s our responsibility now as students and faculty to follow through on our end and to only take what we can and will eat at lunch. One honest senior who requests anonymity admits, “I know it’s wrong, but I honestly think I feel less bad about taking more food than I can eat because I’m like, ‘it’s composting.’” While their honesty is admirable, it’s this attitude toward food waste that needs to change. So next time you’re in the lunchline, think about whether you’re really going to eat that sandwich, pasta salad, beef chili, green beans, and apple, or if your eyes are bigger than your stomach.