New Bedford Public Schools (NBPS) are doing their part to reduce waste. In one grant funded project, the school district has eliminated the use of more than 1.6 million Styrofoam meal trays annually. In another project, several schools are diverting food waste from the trash to be composted. Reducing waste is important since the Crapo Hill Landfill has limited remaining capacity.
Eliminating 1.6 Million Styrofoam Meal Trays
The City of New Bedford was awarded a grant by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) in 2019 to implement a program to reduce the use of Styrofoam trays in the NBPS. Starting in the 2022-23 school year, the school district eliminated the use of Styrofoam meal trays. Instead, they are using a combination of reusable trays and paper meal trays. Robert Shaheen, Food Services Director at NBPS, said, “Health concerns over using Styrofoam, and knowing that we need to reduce what is going to the landfill, made this a welcomed partnership to eliminate Styrofoam lunch trays.”
The project was a collaboration between the City of New Bedford, NBPS, and the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District (GNBRRMD). The City purchased six dishwashers for three elementary schools – Gomes Elementary School, Carney Academy, and Hayden McFadden Elementary School. The project was funded by a School Recycling Assistance grant from MassDEP of $95,000; $24,000 from Recycling Dividend Program funds which is another grant program from MassDEP; and in-kind funding from NBPS for dishwasher installation and the purchase of 4,000 reusable trays. NBPS funded an additional four dishwashers to ensure all the dishwashers at the three schools were functional. Separate from this project, NBPS replaced or repaired many other dishwashers at additional schools.
Staff from the GNBRRMD applied for the grant, drafted and submitted required reports, and gave recycling and waste reduction educational presentations to approximately 2,000 students throughout the two and half years of the project. These presentations were a requirement of the grant. During the 2018-19 school year, the baseline for the program, NBPS purchased 1,627,980 Styrofoam lunch trays. In 2021-22, 16,250 Styrofoam lunch trays were purchased, and in 2022-23 no Styrofoam lunch trays were purchased.
Reducing Food Waste Going in the Trash
The NBPS are diverting food waste from the trash at Jacobs Elementary School, Keith Middle School, Normandin Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School, and New Bedford High School. “These projects directly result in reduced volumes of waste going into our local landfill. They are great examples of various groups working together to accomplish significant goals. Excellent teamwork!” said Jennifer Vieira, Director of Facilities & Fleet Management.
Black Earth Compost delivered carts to these schools. School staff places food waste such as trimmings from vegetables, and food that was not eaten in time, into the designated carts. Black Earth Compost empties the carts and composts the food waste. Compost is nutrient-rich soil amendment. It is vital to return nutrients to the soil to continue to grow nutritious food.