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Week #7: Waste Busters!

Thank you to Elise Sheffield, Boxerwood Education Director, for her guest blog this week:

Hi everyone, as your Backyard Challenge enters its final laps, I thought you’d be interested to hear about another cohort busily composting too: hundreds of Rockbridge-area schoolchildren. This year five (count ‘em FIVE!) schools have taken the compost plunge as part of Boxerwood’s Waste Busters program.

Waste Busters takes the same approach you’re familiar with in the Backyard Compost Challenge: free, friendly coaching, data-gathering, plus a composter. With the exception of Central Elementary – where a farmer takes the food waste for chickens to scratch – each school is set up with a closed, big-volume composter called an Earth Cube.  The technical properties of the Earth Cube enable it to process and break down food scraps at a faster rate than the backyard Earth Machines. Volume is an important feature for a school serving hundreds of meals a day, as is its closed system (no pests!).

These specially designed composters cost about $5,000 each, so it’s not likely you’ll see one in your backyard anytime soon – but they’re working great for the schools. A generous grant from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with additional help from the Rockbridge County Recycling Office, enabled Boxerwood to purchase the Earth Cubes, which we own and maintain as part of our Waste Busters model.

But a composter is only part of what it takes to turn food waste into treasure. Just as your household developed a collecting and weighing system, so did each of our schools. And just like households, each school's plan works a little bit differently, but they all put child leadership front and center, focusing on grades 3, 4, and 5. 

Waste Busters started in 2022 with Natural Bridge Elementary School, then moved on to Enderly Heights Elementary in Buena Vista. The three remaining county elementary schools came aboard this January. Each day, student crews help their peers scrape their plates before weighing the waste and taking the slop out to their composters. Just like you, the student leaders add leaves and even shredded homework to achieve a healthy greens-to-browns ratio, and Ginny Johnson – Boxerwood sustainability educator and compost technician, and the guest author of last week’s compost blog – stops by once a week to check in, troubleshoot, and stir that compost. 

The good news is the program has been going well: students are excited to help the Earth and teachers are happy to see student leadership. The Earth Cubes are getting full now, with the compost finishing over the summer and ready for garden projects in the fall. By the end of the school year our young earth citizens will have diverted more than 5,000 pounds from the Rockbridge landfill – and that’s just the beginning. Boxerwood hopes to expand Waste Busters to more local schools next year. As you can see, slop’s rising!

Now, please click the green button below to access the simple data upload page. Thank you as always for your participation!

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