While many families were out picking up school supplies or taking a last trip to the pool over the weekend, teams of local volunteers were out in the steamy weather swinging hammers and hauling lumber to help improve sustainability in Wyoming.
Community members, students, and city and school staff worked together in the 90-degree heat to build large compost bins at Wyoming Middle School, High School, and at the Wyoming Community Garden – all with a goal of making composting easier for Wyoming students and local restaurants.
For a few years now, elementary students around town have been separating their trash, recycling, and compostable lunch scraps at waste stations that make sorting waste (and learning to reduce it) an everyday part of life. Many have marched home and insisted their parents start a backyard compost, citing the reality that around 40 percent of food goes to waste in America and contributes to the 4.45 pounds of trash thrown away per person per day.
Meanwhile, restaurants around the city have been focused on sustainability in their kitchens. Some, like Tela Bar + Kitchen source their food locally (some grown right in the Wyoming Community Garden). Wyoming Community Coffee, for example, has an existing partnership with a local farmer who uses their coffee grounds as a soil amendment.
“A desire to use food sustainably—and keep what we can out of the waste stream—has been growing around Wyoming for some time,” says City Councilmember Sarah Stankorb Taylor. When Hamilton County Recycling & Solid Waste District put out a call for organic waste diversion grant proposals, Stankorb Taylor says she saw it as an opportunity to tie together these impulses and wrote a proposal that linked the city and schools together in partnership for waste diversion.
A Day’s Hard Work That Will Create Lasting Impacts
On build day, Saturday, Aug. 10, the lumber had been precut and labeled with letters A-Y, prepared in advance into kits —like a massive, yard-sized Ikea furniture assembly—by Patrick Walker, Environmental Stewardship Commission member, craftsman, and executive director of the Applied Arts Center of Cincinnati, and Michael Taylor, Wyoming resident, pediatric neurologist and amateur carpenter. Throughout the day, Walker and Taylor led the teams of volunteers at the three locations, using schematics utilized by Boy Scouts a few years ago to build Hilltop Elementary School’s bin.
As the sun rose high over sweaty volunteers, Dino Distasi sent over sustenance (pizza) from Gabby’s Cafe. At the high school, students and recent alumni were only willing to take a quick lunch break before getting back to work. “Being able to leave a tangible, lasting influence on the school is especially meaningful to me,” explains Lila Weiser, a 2019 Wyoming graduate who helped construct the high school compost bin. “I try to live in an environmentally conscious way while educating those around me, so having a set program that will allow the whole district to be aware of their environmental impact will be reassuring to me that there is hope for the future… Composting is an outstanding way to reduce one’s carbon footprint and help protect our only planet from the increasingly worse climate crisis.”
Stella Dionysiou, also a 2019 grad, also helped build the high school bin. She remembers first learning about composting as an elementary student herself. “Composting isn’t just important because it reduces waste, it also teaches students to become more aware of the world around them and the waste problem that we face in the United States.” She suggests composting at school can help students make more environmentally conscious decisions, including perhaps obtaining compost bins of their own. Dionysiou herself built a compost bin in her family’s backyard this year as part of an environmental contest she entered through school. She adds, “Through the process of composting, students will learn about how something as simple as waste can be recycled to produce something as useful as a rich soil, humus, that can be used in gardens across the community.”
Grant funding from the county, plus a 25 percent match from the school district, funded the purchase of two stainless steel waste sorting stations for the high school that will be installed in early September. (Similar waste stations were previously purchased for the elementary and middle schools with support from the Wyoming School Foundation.) For its part, the city matched 25 percent of supply costs for the compost bins for the middle school, high school, and another at the community garden.
“We are so excited to expand lunchroom waste sorting and composting K-12!” said Superintendent Tim Weber, who stopped by the middle school build. “All of our students will see how their everyday actions impact their environment and, from the grant writing to the bin building, this is a great example of the community working together to provide our students with wonderful opportunities!”
The consistency across the school system will impact the waste coming from the schools, which contributes to the city’s overall yield. After the addition of waste stations and quarterly zero waste lunches, elementary lunchtime waste on typical days has dropped by almost 39 percent over two years of tracking.
Local Restaurants Composting Waste from Kitchens
The compost bin at the community garden is going to be used by three Wyoming restaurants that have committed to composting their kitchen scraps: Gabby’s Café, Tela Bar + Grill, and Wyoming Community Coffee. Their food waste will be combined with garden scraps from the community garden to create compost that will be available to the gardeners, and Penny Shore, Wyoming resident and manager of the Wyoming Farmers Market will help oversee the bin.
Community members are asked not to drop their compost into these bins, as all the waste is being measured for tracking purposes as part of the grant. Composting can also take some training, and the well-meaning, but accidental addition of something non-compostable could ruin the yield. It is likely easier for residents to compost in their own backyards, and discounts on at-home bins are available to residents who attend one of the county’s training programs, such as one offered this past spring by the Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Commission.
“By the end of the day, we were all exhausted,” says Councilmember Stankorb Taylor who worked at all three sites. “But it was also immensely rewarding to see so many familiar—and new—faces committed to this effort.” Wyoming is increasingly known regionally for its environmental ethos, she adds. “We’re a thoughtful community that cares about the Earth. With the scale of our climate challenge, having neighbors like this, who put in the time and effort to make a difference gives me great hope.”