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Roseville teens compost school’s food scraps

Woodcreek High School students are competing in a national sustainability contest
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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A group of environmentally conscious students at Woodcreek High School has hoarded all the trash bins in their cafeteria.

They’ve corralled them against one wall so students eating lunch have no choice but to approach this area where they are met with another bin for vermicomposting.

On some days, the eco-friendly students act as garbage monitors, ensuring items get discarded in the appropriate bin.

These four students are part of the Woodcreek Nature Center located behind the campus and are leading an effort to compost all leftover organic food scraps from the cafeteria and turn them into soil. Vermicomposting is the decomposition of organic material with the help of worms, which accelerate the process.

They’ll submit this project to the Siemens “We Can Change the World Challenge,” a national competition to give students the opportunity and tools to create sustainable and reproducible environmental changes in local communities.

Woodcreek’s team focused on the problem of organic waste getting thrown away instead of being repurposed.

“We thought there has to be a way to get this out of the landfills,” said senior Taylor Galvan. “We chose composting because one-third of our waste can be decomposed. In California, that’s 12 million tons a year. We need to get that out of landfills.”

Landfills produce methane gas, which is bad for the environment. Composting also adds nutrients to plants and saves water because gardens that use this material don’t need as much liquid nourishment to grow.

“It really has endless benefits,” Galvan said.

Her group’s efforts have proven successful. They started with six bins — each with 1,000 worms — and are building a much larger bin to accommodate their growing compost collection.

They collect data on how quickly food decomposes. They’ve found, for instance, that three pounds of food scraps takes between six and 10 weeks to break down.

Being successful means educating their peers about the importance of separating food trash into appropriate bins. That’s not a problem for junior Ricky Jones, who also composts at home.

“I like educating people about the environment,” Jones said.

Students compost pizza crust, fruits, veggies, napkins, paper lunch bags, muffin cups, plain cooked rice, veggies, fruit, pretzels, tea bags, paper plates and more.

“The No. 1 question we get: Does (the compost) smell? No, it doesn’t,” Galvan said.

She and her peers are familiar with educating others about the natural world as part of their involvement with the Woodcreek Nature Center, where they often present to visiting elementary school students.

The vermicomposting team members are in Advanced Placement Environmental Science, which most high schools don’t offer, said teacher Kendra Grinsell.
Team member Scotty Burdick, a senior, will likely pursue a career as an environmental engineer.

“It’s just fascinating to me,” Burdick said. “I love being out in nature and to help preserve those areas for future people.”

Senior Jillian Ebrahimi plans to major in political science and become an attorney specializing in environmental policy.

“It’s been really interesting (vermicomposting). I learn more and more every day,” Ebrahimi said. “It’s so easy but it makes such a difference.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.