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Food Recovery and Composting in Schools

Now that schools are back to normal operations post-COVID, the Lunch Out of Landfills’ (LOOL) food recovery, waste sorting, and composting programs have swung back into action in 10 Frederick County schools. Committed school “Champions”, teachers, student leaders, interns, Green Teams, and enthusiastic students are once again engaged in taking action for the climate every school day. Driving this effort from concept to reality in each school since 2017 is Rotarian and Mountainside Education and Enrichment’s founder Joe Richardson, Sr., a long time advocate of school composting. Richardson regularly visits with school administrators, building services staff, teachers, students and volunteers to stimulate LOOL adoption and growth. FCPS is providing the funding for compost pick-up services and compostable bags, while several local Rotary clubs have provided funding for essential supplies such as compost bins and more. Schools currently participating include Butterfly Ridge Elementary, Green Valley Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Middletown Elementary and Middle, Oakdale High, Sugarloaf Elementary, and Urbana High. Urbana Elementary school and possibly one additional school will be starting in the next few months.

Lunch waste sorting involves setting aside unwanted unopened food for recovery and redistribution, disposal of opened liquids, identification and separation of acceptable recyclables, and collection of compostable food scraps which are picked up by Key City Compost. When this is done correctly, up to 85 percent of waste can be diverted from landfills and substantial amounts of perfectly good food can be redistributed to those in need. Furthermore the volume and costs associated with trash collection can be reduced. Altogether, this results in less trash and reduced organics decomposition and climate warming methane emissions at landfills.

Food recovery and Share Tables became more effective this year with addition of mini-fridges for unopened items such as milk and yogurt. The Carroll Creek Rotary Club donated a mini-fridge to Lincoln Elementary, and the Southern Frederick Rotary donated mini-fridges to Green Valley and Sugarloaf. Some students have very little time to eat and don’t finish their lunches and some lunch periods occur before noon when students are less hungry. Share Tables and mini-fridges allow students put unwanted food to good use or to take additional food when hungry throughout the school day. Remaining food is picked up by the Frederick Rescue Mission at Lincoln and Butterfly Ridge; at other schools, volunteers deliver recovered food to local food banks. LOOL is currently in need of volunteers to transport recovered food on a daily basis. If interested, contact Joe Richardson at

The amount of recovered and redistributed food and milk is substantial. For example, at Lincoln, just one small elementary school, between 50 and 70 bottles of milk are recovered each day. This amounts to approximately 9,000 – 12,600 eight ounce bottles (or 563 - 788 gallons) per year that the Rescue Mission puts to good use! Based on data from one-time waste sort exercises at four elementary and middle schools during the 2018-2019 school year, it was estimated that more than 355,000 pieces of whole fresh fruit are thrown in the trash each year in all Frederick County middle and elementary schools!

Richardson’s passion and action for food recovery and composting extends far beyond Frederick County. He has championed and helped initiate Share Table and composting programs in 25 Montgomery County Schools, and schools systems across the nation have also sought his help to establish programs in Hawaii, Idaho, Georgia, and New York.

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