Photo: Carol Kaliff / Carol Kaliff
NEWTOWN — The town’s elementary schools will likely see a dip in their waste next year with the introduction of a new recycling program.
Students and staff will now recycle their food waste in the cafeteria. The program is still in the discussion phase and is expected to roll out in the schools this fall.
“We already have a recycling program; we’re just talking about taking it to the next step,” said Gino Faiella, the school district’s facilities director.
Newtown schools already recycle cardboard, cans and plastic.
Superintendent of Schools Lorrie Rodrigue said the idea to expand to food waste has been in the works and was included in her budget presentation in January, not only because it will save money but because it was the right thing to do.
“We felt that we needed to take a greater step in supporting recycling across the district,” she said.
Her administrative team all jumped on board when she announced the idea, she added.
Faiella said there isn’t an extra cost for the program because the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority is donating the food waste containers that will be used at the schools.
He expects the food material to be collected daily, though where it will go is still being decided.
Rodrigue said they’re starting at the elementary school level because it’s easier to start these habits younger and build that culture than it is to change older student’s behaviors. She said this recycling program will most likely expand through the district as those elementary school students move up through the grades.
There is also more flexibility in the lower grades’ schedules to incorporate instructional components into the day. Staff from the HRRA are expected to come and work with the students to teach them these habits and explain the importance of separating food waste.
HRRA has already rolled out an organics recycling program that aims to remove food from the waste stream. Several towns, including Newtown, participate.
“It would be a natural extension of the efforts at the town level,” Rodrigue said.
Under that program, residents are able to recycle a variety of organic materials, including meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy products, garden waste, houseplants, flowers, fruits, nuts, bread, pastas, grains, sauces, soups, gravy, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, vegetables, bones and pits. The material is composted and residents are able to receive that for free.
HRRA Executive Director Jennifer Heaton-Jones came up with the idea for the regional program several years ago as a way to meet the state’s goal of reducing solid waste by 60 percent by 2024. She has said that organics are the biggest percentage of the waste stream, which is burned with incinerators to create energy. The organics don’t create a lot of energy though because they don’t burn well and are more valuable as compost.
Several of the students and staff already participate in this program at home, and Rodrigue expects that will help with the transition and might even spread the recycling practices into the community more.
“There are many families in Newtown that take recycling seriously,” she said, adding her husband has introduced organic recycling to their home. “We hope those who have learned some of these habits in the home translate to the school so they can monitor and help and vice versa.”