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Coming soon: Composting to create energy

Chances are you eat lunch every day. Some days you might even have leftover food. Have you ever been torn about where to put your leftovers?

Starting in March, CHS will be the first pilot K-12 school in the region to send its compost to an anaerobic (without oxygen) digester that will produce methane gas to power the neighboring waste water treatment plant. In addition to creating power for the Monterey regional waste water treatment plant, the compost produced will be used in local vineyards and orchards.

Monterey Regional Waste Management District’s public education coordinator Kimberle Herring recently explained the process to CHS Environmental Club members.


It works like this. Step one: Students carry their compostables—this includes compostable plates and utensils as well as food scraps—to the composting bin in the cafeteria. Step two: The Waste Management truck comes once a week to pick up and transport the compost to the anaerobic digester in Marina. Step three: Science.

Whenever organic material goes into an anaerobic environment, like a landfill, methane gas is produced. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times as potent as CO2. The digester to which CHS’ compost would be going captures and utilizes the methane byproduct.

In addition to protecting the environment and setting a precedent for other schools, CHS will be turning its waste into a resource…making energy.

MRWMD is providing the financial support for the pilot project. The support will cover the cost of three months of collection service as well as support student and staff education.

“Student-to-student education is crucial,” says Jason Maas-Baldwin, science teacher and Environmental Club advisor. “I think it will decide the success of the program. There will always be apathy, but we have to focus on the students who want to compost and want to reduce their waste”

Maas-Baldwin is so invested in student-to-student education that he will be assigning his AP Environmental Science students to monitor the compost collection stations at lunchtime and to help educate students about what is compostable.

Composting has been high on the Environmental Club’s list, but has failed in the past.

“We’ve done vermicomposting, which is composting with worms, and they can’t compost meat or plates or citrus,” Maas-Baldwin notes.

“No offense to high school students, but just getting them to put trash in the trash can is tricky,” he adds. “Getting them to very carefully consider what they put in the composter was not really realistic. That’s why the new form of composting is much more practical for students.”

Environmental Club students echo his enthusiasm and are optimistic the program will be successful, noting that participating in the Organics to Energy program and reducing school waste fits into our school district’s goal of being the first Ocean Guardian school district in the nation.
– Carly Rudiger

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