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Environment club tackles composting project

[media-credit name=”Nina Kaplan” align=”alignnone” width=”300″][/media-credit]

Sophomore Roz Aronow, junior Julia Bernstein, senior Thao Bach and junior Jay Feinstein discuss the environment’s composting project at the club’s meeting Monday X-block.

by Malini Gandhi
This school is already crammed with blue recycling bins bearing the characteristic white arrows, yet next year, the environment club hopes to introduce a new element of the fight against overflowing landfills: one that involves banana peels and coffee grinds instead of paper.
Yes, composting is coming to this school, according to junior Jay Feinstein, co-president of the environmental club along with senior Thao Bach and junior Victoria Holland.
According to Feinstein, composting is an exciting, increasingly popular way of addressing the problem of excess waste. Through composting, food waste and leaves are used to create organic matter, which can be “used as fertilizer for gardens,” Feinstein explained.
The City of Newton provides many resources for residents interested in learning about composting or looking to start their own composting piles.
The club has been playing with the idea of tackling a composting project ever since it met for the very first time in early October, according to Bach.

The group had gathered in a science classroom for their first meeting and was brainstorming potential projects and events that could make the school greener. “Composting was one of the very first things we came up with,” Bach said.

“It seemed like such a cool project: unique, challenging and something not a lot of schools have,” Bach said.
The personal experiences of many club members with composting also inspired the project. According to sophomore Roz Aronow, since she was five years old, she has been putting banana peels in a composting bin outside her home, an experience she describes as “very rewarding.”
“Composting has really made me aware of how much waste doesn’t have to go in the trash,” Aronow said. “I think we’ve watched our trash bins at home drop to half of their previous levels. It makes you feel a lot better, taking care of the environment on such a constant, everyday basis.”
It was with this optimistic view of making a difference on a daily basis that drove the environment club forward, and they are currently working out the logistics to make their vision a reality, according to Bach.
According to Feinstein, the first step in the process was contacting other schools with composting programs in order to hear their experiences and get advice, because “more and more schools are jumping on with composting.”

Manchester-Essex Regional, which has composting in its hallways, emailed the environment club about its experiences with composting. The school provided “very interesting information that gave us insight on their trials and errors,” Feinstein said.

According to Feinstein, the most difficult aspect faced by the students at Manchester-Essex Regional was educating students about putting the right foods in the bins in the cafeteria because “even a bit of meat or milk can ruin it all.”

After speaking with principal Jennifer Price, science teacher and environment club adviser Ann Dannenberg and other schools with composting programs, the club narrowed down its vision for the project, Feinstein said.

Realizing that Manchester-Essex Regional’s problem of monitoring student’s additions to composting bins would be a problem at this school as well, the club decided to steer away from implementing composting immediately in the cafeteria, where “getting kids to put the right foods in the bins would be immensely challenging,” Feinstein said.

Instead, the group is hoping to implement composting in the Tiger’s Loft Bistro by the beginning of next year, where monitoring the food would be easier due to the smaller space, fewer people and the classroom setting.

One compost bin will be located on the porch outside the Tiger’s Loft, while another bin will be located in the culinary classroom.

According to Feinstein, the culinary classes “seem very interested,” and he hopes that the composting project in the Tiger’s Loft will allow students to “really get involved in the process.”

In the meantime, the group is currently working on a proposal to Newton’s Parks and Recreations committee to secure permission for the project.

According to Bach, each part of the process has “taught us most of all to simply take baby steps.”

“When we first started the project, we aimed really  high. We actually wanted to implement a composting program for the entirety of Newton. We then narrowed the project down to a school-wide program, and have now settled on the Tiger’s Loft as a good starting point,” she said. “We are hoping to expand in the future, but we’ve definitely learned the value of breaking huge, daunting projects into smaller steps.”

Working on the project has also made the group “closer and more collaborative,” according to Bach.

“We’ve had to enhance our communication skills and learn to work as a group and to divvy up tasks. It’s really helped us progress as a club, and gain the skills to tackle other projects,” she said.

For Aronow, in the end the project is not just about implementing a composting system in the Tiger’s Loft, but about spreading a larger message to the school community.

“The composting project is so great because it provides students with a learning experience about environmentally friendly options,” Aronow said. “I think our ultimate goal is to influence people in the community to embrace these options themselves. Students might see the composting system at school and go home interested in having a composting system outside their house as well. It’s about setting a good example.”

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