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One Man's Trash: A new recycling program is helping Bear Creek students turn slop into soil 

Bend's Bear Creek Elementary School introduces the disposal station, including a new lunch composting bin - the first of its kind in Central Oregon schools.

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It's lunchtime at Bear Creek Elementary School, and principal Matt Montoya rolls the last lunch table into place as the parade of children begins streaming in through the cafeteria doors. Stations are set up for students to pay their lunch money, get milk out of the cooler, select fresh fruit and veggies, and pick out a hot lunch option. When the masses finish their meal, they give a "thumbs up" and get up to visit the final lunch stop: the disposal station, including a new lunch composting bin - the first of its kind in Central Oregon schools.

Older students from the student council wearing "Green Team" hats wait patiently by the disposal stations and help the other students sort their scraps into the garbage, recycling, and, as of this school year, composting bins. The result of simply adding one extra bin, and some extra awareness about food waste to the school cafeteria is a half-ton of food waste kept out of a landfill every week, according to Katy Bryce, sustainability coordinator at the Environmental Center.

Developed with assistance from the Environmental Center, Cascade Disposal, and Deschutes Recycling, Bear Creek's composting program, which began in January of this year, is serving as test case for other Central Oregon public schools. According to Denise Rowcroft, education coordinator at the Environmental Center, lunch is the biggest waste generator in schools and composting is the next big step in school waste reduction as the Bend-La Pine School District works toward the goal of becoming a "zero waste" school district.

How it works

Food waste, including milk, meat, pizza, hot dogs, pretty much anything edible gets poured, tossed, or dumped into a bin specifically for compostable materials. Cascade disposal picks up the material every Tuesday and delivers it to Deschutes Recycling where it is layered with yard debris, and given 30 days to decompose. The material cures for up to another two months until nitrogen, carbon, and pathogen levels are at a desired level. At that point, the food scraps have completely transformed into a rich soil that can be sold and used by gardeners or farmers to grow more food and other plants.

A Learning Experience

There's also an educational component to all this chemistry. Rowcroft said that she came into the school and taught abbreviated composting lessons to third, fourth, and fifth graders discussing why composting is important, how decomposition works in nature, and how we can take advantage of this natural process to reduce waste. The older students then have the option to participate on the "Green Team" and demonstrate the composting skills they've learned.

Rowcroft said she's hoping to get more schools on board with lunch composting after spring break, or at least by the start of the next school year.

"It's so simple, but so revolutionary, the idea of a whole school district composting food waste," Rowcroft.

To learn more about how your school or business can do more to cut down on waste, visit the Environmental Center's Zero Waste page (, or contact Katy Bryce at 541-385-6908 ext. 16.

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