Students at Columbus Gifted Academy in the Short North have started a “green team” to help classmates separate uneaten food and trash into bins for composting and recycling. The food-waste reduction program is one of many happening throughout Columbus City Schools and other school districts in central Ohio, with assistance from outside groups, including the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, the Kroger Co. Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund.

Months ago, the Columbus Gifted Academy cafeteria was tossing about 18 bags of garbage into the Dumpster daily. Now, the school throws out, at most, a couple of trash bags thanks to efforts led by its students. “A lot of stuff is out of our control, and that can make you feel kind of helpless,” said 13-year-old Amelia Harris, an eighth-grader. “You just have to take a step back and focus on what you can do to help and make a difference.”

For Harris and nine classmates, that meant creating a “green team” at the Short North school, which has about 450 students in grades 3-8. The program is one example of how central Ohio students are working to reduce the waste they send to Franklin County’s landfill.

Many students are leading similar efforts around the nation. On a recent Monday afternoon, a team of eighth-graders gave up recess to sort trash and uneaten food from lunch trays into bins marked for recycling and composting. They set up a “share table,” where students set aside food they don’t want. Students with bigger appetites can take extra items, no questions asked, and the leftovers go into a school food pantry instead of the trash.

Older students now use compostable paper lunch trays instead of foam, and everyone sips from paper straws instead of plastic ones, which aren’t biodegradable. School officials made the changes with little added cost. The Compost Exchange, a local company that offers curbside and drop-off composting, picks up buckets weekly at a discounted rate, funded by donations from the school’s PTA, said English teacher Laurel Murphy, the group’s adviser.

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Author: Alissa Widman Neese, The Columbus Dispatch
Photo: Adam Cairns, Dispatch