Nov 30, 2021 - News

CPS expands composting program — but slowly

Buckets for compost, recyclables and garbage.
Students at CPS schools that compost separate liquid from recyclables and compostables after their meals. Photo courtesy of Seven Generations Ahead

Chicago Public Schools could nearly double the number of schools that compost their food waste this school year.

Why it matters: Food waste that isn't composted and goes to landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 when it comes to driving near-term climate change.

  • The Environmental Defense Fund calls methane reduction the "fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming."

How it works: An environmental group called Seven Generations Ahead trains students and staff to separate organic waste (food and compostable trays) from recyclables, liquid and trash to be sent to local composting facilities.

  • Participating elementary schools: Hamilton, McAuliffe, Bell, Waters, Mitchell, Peterson, Von Linne, Suder and Sandoval.
  • Middle and high schools: Southside Occupational, Solorio Academy, Marine Leadership Academy, Northside College Prep and Hernandez.

Yes but: Nearly 500 district-run schools are not yet composting.

  • Based on current waste figures, that's likely sending 35 tons of organic waste to the landfill every day.
  • Since 2016, CPS has buying compostable food trays, hundreds of thousands of which are sent to the landfill each week instead of being composted.

What they're saying: "The District aims to meet our goal of diverting 80% or more of all cafeteria/kitchen waste from landfills through commercial composting, recycling, liquid diversion, and food recovery by 2025," CPS spokesperson Mary Ann Fergus tells Axios.

  • That means launching hundreds of composting programs in a few years.

What's next: When asked about the slow expansion, Fergus mentioned challenges "including funding, school-level support, and student, staff and parent participation," but didn't directly answer the question.

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