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Portland Public Schools » Programs » Cafeteria Recycling/Composting

Cafeteria Recycling/Composting

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The Portland Public Schools has a recycling/composting/trash separation program in cafeterias to recycle more and to compost our food waste.

The result? Elimination of Styrofoam trays, a significant reduction in the amount of trash going to school dumpsters every day and a great opportunity to model for all students the importance of reducing and recycling our trash, and how they can be a part of this practice every day.

This program gives students the opportunity for hands-on learning about recycling, waste reduction and composting, makes the district an environmental leader in our own community and a model for the entire state and supports the district in reaching for the goal of zero waste. 

In years past, cafeterias generated the most trash of any area in our school buildings.  Edible food waste represented an estimated 25 to 40 percent of the trash generated in district cafeterias.  Add other recyclable and compostable materials currently used in the cafeterias, and the percentage of waste that could be diverted from the dumpster during breakfast and lunch increased to an estimated 80 percent.

Separating stations set up in each cafeteria allow for each student to separate trash, food waste and recyclables into a series of bins and buckets. Student Green Teams at each school, with teacher guidance, form the core group to launch and monitor the pilot. Through a school-wide training and education effort, every school community is trained and informed about this “change of habit," how to separate accurately and why it's important to reduce the amount of trash that goes to the school dumpster.

The food waste is being collected a couple of times a week by a commercial composting operation in Portland, Resurgam Zero Food Waste.  Recycling continues to be picked up by the Portland Department of Public Service. The trash that remains, significantly less than before, is hauled away by Pine Tree Waste.  This initiative will help the city get closer to the state’s mandated 50 percent recycling rate for municipalities.