Success is ‘piling up’ in NUSD cafeteria food-scrap recycling program

--- Published on December 14th 2016 ---
News & Alerts

By Kristi Matal – Special to NUSD

Success is piling up – every lunch hour, in fact, at five NUSD elementary schools.


More than 45 tons of cafeteria food and milk waste have been gathered since last January in a pilot recycling program that began at American Lakes School and later expanded to Natomas Park, Bannon Creek, Two Rivers and Witter Ranch schools. 

Rather than end up in landfills, food scraps gathered through the program are converted by a local firm into clean-burning fuel for local waste-disposal trucks. Students learn about recycling while benefiting their environment. A 2016 California law requires school districts to separate food scraps from trash.

Kids interviewed at Witter Ranch Elementary gave the program thumbs-up. 

“It’s good,” Brenden said of recycling food scraps.

”They make gas out of the food!” added Brielle.   

Kolina said cafeteria recycling was easy to learn. She now throws her lunch scraps into a separate blue bin. “There was an assembly that explained about using the blue bins so the food doesn’t get mixed in with the trash,” she said.          

‪The positive impact of the program is seen every day. Annette Buse, Lead Custodian at Witter Ranch, said, “We have six lunch periods. Before the program, I had to empty the garbage can after every lunch period. Now with the food recycle bins, I only empty the trash once – at the end of the last lunch period. And I empty the food recycle bins twice.”

At American Lakes, NUSD Environmental Support Manager Lori Lewis worked with Principal Suzen Holtemann and the school’s custodial and yard duty staff to start the program. At participating schools, the location of the “Recycle Station” is chosen after a review of the cafeteria and of student flow in picking up their lunch and leaving the room after eating.

Food-scrap recycling also provides opportunities for students to be leaders. Students are asked to volunteer to stand near the Recycling Station and help direct other students to use the correct bins.

This program is possible through a partnership with Breathe California, a non-profit organization that underwrites the program expenses and provides the bins. Breathe California fights for clean air, healthy lungs and a tobacco-free future in Northern California. NUSD also partners with Republic Services, a waste-disposal firm that picks up the food scraps and takes it for processing into fuel.

“The program teaches students about the environment and being healthy. “It’s simple – we want to encourage the students to eat and get healthy and prevent food waste. It’s all about saving world resources,” Lewis said.

Recognizing students for their participation is important.  At one school, a class — or a group of classes — are selected to eat their lunch on the cafeteria stage. Sometimes at other schools, students receive small prizes, such as erasers, for their effort.

“We hope the students will take responsibility for their school because it’s the right thing to do,” Lewis said. “We tell the students that one person can make a difference, and they can help their peers and improve the environment.”