Composting Provides Unusual Savings Opportunity for New York Schools

Students in a number of schools around Utica, New York are learning about their impact on the environment via one age-old technique for disposing of waste: composting. A growing number of schools are embracing composting for a number of reasons, but the chief one is that it simply saves money – and no school today can afford to pass up that opportunity.

According to Jamie Tuttle of Utica’s Observer-Dispatch, the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority school recycling administrator, solid waste disposal costs add up. The price of solid waste disposal for schools is around $70 a ton, yet more than 50% of everything that gets thrown away is compostable. Take away things that are liquid or recyclable, and only somewhere between 2% and 6% of everything a typical school throws out is actually waste.

That provides a lot of room for savings. Utica Academy of Science and its sister school, the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School, for example, save more than $6,000 a year thanks to their composting program.

Statewide, 17 schools and 16 colleges and universities compost, according to the institute’s latest numbers. Of those, five were listed in Oneida County, including Adirondack middle and high schools, Camden Elementary School, New York Mills Union Free School District, Poland and Sauquoit Valley central school districts.

In Herkimer County three were listed: Ilion Junior-Senior High School, Mount Markham Elementary School and Herkimer County Community College.

Hamilton College’s composting program has been evolving over the past three years.

The savings are not limited to K-12 institutions. Colleges and universities are getting into the game as well. Dan Croft, Hamilton College’s grounds service manager says that composting make sense, especially in preference to throwing things on a landfill. He makes extensive use of the compost the school produces around the campus and has saved the school more than $10,000 just last year. He hopes that eventually the compost will be used to save on the maintenance of the school’s athletic fields, currently the biggest grounds expense.

Composting can be incorporated into everything from biology, chemistry and math classes to gardening.
Sauquoit Valley Elementary School participates in the solid waste authority composting programs, and even has a composter right at the school.

“They are amazed every year when we show them what their lunch has turned into,” said Beth Thomas, second grade teacher and Green Team member.

Right now, the school only is able to do a composting challenge once or twice a year, but it hopes to expand and do it year round, Thomas said.

It isn’t difficult to set up a composting program, but it does require some planning beforehand. Specifically, any school considering it must first carry out a thorough analysis of what kind of stuff it is throwing away – and how much of it can be composted instead.