Maroon staying green: Dripping Springs High students help build recycling, compost program

The desire to reduce leftover food and waste during lunchtime is what sparked a new recycling and composting program at Dripping Springs High, which was done with the help of students.  

The program uses a machine to compress and recycle Styrofoam trays, and a food compost accelerator, to convert leftovers into a nutrient-rich material, reducing the amount of waste in the high school cafeteria. 

DSISD purchased a StyroGenie, a thermal densification machine that recycles foam trays that would otherwise end up in landfills.

“This machine will recycle up to 1,800 Styrofoam trays at one time,” said John Crowley, DSISD director of childhood nutrition. 

The machine transforms Styrofoam trays into a liquid resin, which is cooled into cubes that are returned to a manufacturing facility and incorporated into the production of new trays.

The cubes will be picked up and sent to a factory in Houston that will turn it back into Styrofoam, Crowley said. 

This process reduces waste by 95 percent, which reduces landfill materials.

“We’re actually doing a full circle with recycling and keeping that out of the landfill,” Crowley said.

The high school’s compost accelerator sanitizes and dehydrates leftover food, turning it into a nitrogen-rich, coffee-grounds-like material, and reduces food waste volume by 90 percent.

The material is given to the high school’s agriculture department and mixed with compost to be sold or used in landscaping.

“The Ag and FFA kids are mixing the dehydrated food scraps with animal manure and cedar shavings, bagging, and selling this high-quality compost to local businesses,” said Jamie Biel, Dripping Springs High School environmental science teacher. “The sales fund the Ag program and it saves the district money on tipping fees at the landfill.”

Students divide their trash among food, cans and bottles, landfill material and trays using the three new sorting stations in the cafeteria. 

“The composting keeps nutrients cycling in the environment and reduces methane emissions, which is a really effective heat traveling gas,” Biel said. “We are making positive benefits to the environment and the economy.”

Students in the high school’s environmental science classes helped other students adjust to sorting their trash by creating informational posters, flyers, brochures and a video.

The educational video was showed during students’ advisory period, lunch, and on a loop outside the school’s Center for Learning and Innovation.

LifeSkills students and staff helped model the proper sorting of materials in the cafeteria and engineering students made laser-cut placards for the sorting tables.

After students were introduced to the new sorting system, a second video was created by environmental science students to more deeply and broadly educate the community about the recycling and composting system. 

“We were so successful that the company who sold us the machines and sorting tables has asked for us to model the implementation of this system in a K12 environment,” Biel said. “Each student involved feels deeply connected to their campus and is proud to have played an integral role in the implementation of a truly innovative solution.”

According to a press release, DSISD is the first school district in Central Texas to implement this program.

“Both of these processes will help keep organic waste out of landfills,” Crowley said. “We are thinking globally but acting locally.”

The recycling and composting program could also lead to the use of fewer trash bags, potentially fewer picks-ups by the waste company, and a lighter work load for custodians at lunch time.

DSISD officials could potentially implement the compost and recycling programs in other campuses in the future. 

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