West Hartford

Bugbee Students Learn About Sustainability Through Food Scrap Program in West Hartford

Five schools took part in the composting program pre-COVID, but Bugbee Elementary is the first to take it on since the pandemic started.

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You are never too young to help take care of our planet, and at one West Hartford school, kids are doing just that. Hundreds of students in kindergarten through fifth grade are composting every day at lunch.

Bugbee Elementary is the first school in West Hartford to run a food scrap program since the start of the pandemic.

In elementary school, kids learn pleases, thank yous, and nowadays, composting. It’s something that is part of lunchtime for all the students at Bugbee Elementary School.

“What we do is that when we're done eating our food, we basically sort it,” Hanna Melo, a third grader, said.

Handmade signs on the wall show the students exactly where to put each item.

“In this bin, we put all of our liquids. Here we have food scraps, we put all of the foods that we don't eat,” Melo said. “And here is the trash where we put plastic, anything that's like this here like paper cups, straws, plastic utensils.”

The program gives a rewarding feeling to students like Melo.

“I think that it will be really good and could really help the planet to make the world a better place,” she said.

Principal Kelly Brouse said teaching kids to protect the planet is part of the goal.

“Anything we can do to teach them that they have ownership in the world around them and they can contribute to making it a cleaner planet and a safer environment in the in their future, the better,” Brouse said

The other benefit is major waste reduction -- 370 kids enrolled at Bugbee Elementary are taking part in the program every day.

“All this food goes to Quantum Biopower, an anaerobic digester in Southington, Connecticut,” Katherine Bruns, West Hartford’s recycling coordinator, said.

Bruns, who partners with the school, said all the food waste is then converted into renewable energy.

The composting program was running in five West Hartford schools pre-pandemic, but the program was halted as the district shifted to brown bag lunches and eating outdoors.

“We had to stop, there were new COVID safety measures, we just had to make things as simple as possible to keep the kids in school,” Bruns said.

Now Bugbee is the first school in the district to start up the food scrap program again, although it is a new program for that elementary school.

“We introduced it to our school right after the start of the new year, right in January. And even though you know, we were in the height of a spike with the pandemic, there's no time to waste when it comes to preserving our planet,” Brouse said.

Bruns said this is one step in addressing the larger, national issue of food waste in school cafeterias.

“The average elementary school kid throws away about 1.2 pounds of food waste a week,” she said. “So for all of West Hartford, if you think of elementary schools alone, you're into 4,000 pounds of food waste in one week.”

As for the kids, they are having a pretty good time going green.

“That’s how you save the world!” Melo said. “I am a person that likes to make the world a better place, I help everybody as much as I can. It's an honor being a part of this, a part of doing this and a part of growing this community.”

The Town of West Hartford is looking to expand this composting program to more public schools. Braeburn Elementary School is the second school now getting on board.

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