Trash Terminators 2.0: From a zero-waste school to a zero-waste community

January 28, 2014 

From left: Elizabeth Farmer, Dan Schnitzer (sustainability director), Vincent Chen, Rohan Deshpande. Seated: Quentin Sieredzki, Graeme Zimmermann


On July 1, 2013, the Orange County landfill closed. Now our trash is sent to a landfill over 100 miles away, and we are spending a lot of money transporting this trash and as a result emitting lots of CO2 as well.

This year, Trash Terminators 2.0 from Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill decided to start composting at our school. Food decomposing in the landfill releases methane gas that heats up the atmosphere 20 times faster than CO2. By sending food to a commercial composting site we would be helping our environment.

We visited Brooks Composting site and contracted with them to take our school compost to their large-scale composting site. We took permission from our principal and brought cafeteria and custodial staff on board with our new project. We put up posters around the school explaining the benefits of composting and recycling. We are thankful to our teachers who showed our composting videos in classrooms.

In the cafeteria, we started a new system which is to tip the unfinished liquids, recycle the cartons/cans, put compostable food trays and uneaten food in the compost bins. We also started a giving table where students put their unopened and untouched cafeteria food. Students on a meal plan or in the nurse’s office take this for an extra snack. Also, we are working on making worm compost (vermiculture) bins for classrooms at our school. Our recent initiative was to get more people composting over the holidays. Many people have large parties over the holidays and use plastic plates and cups. We encouraged people to use compostable plates instead. We made posters and fliers to hang around our school.

All these accomplishments have already made an impact, and we have gotten very good results. We have diverted over 80 percent of trash going to the landfill by recycling and composting. In one school year, we estimate Phillips Middle School will divert 20,484.2 lbs of trash from the landfill. We will avoid 573.8 lbs of CO2 from being released into our atmosphere. We will save $550 in a school year on gas by not shipping as much to the landfill. If we replicate our system in all the schools in the district we will have amazing results. We recently presented our work to Mr. Dan Schnitzer, the sustainability director of the CHCCS District. We are going to work with him on starting composting in other schools.

Along with school composting initiative, we have done community outreach as well. We set up booths at the Chapel Hill Public Library and the Walk for Education event to tell the importance of composting to our community. We made videos about worm bins and backyard composting and posted it on our website. We helped people sort their waste at Festifall, a street festival in Chapel Hill.

To increase awareness about global warming and need for composting and recycling, we created social media sites on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and reached out to our community by writing articles in the local newspapers. We have made an infomercial about composting which will air on TV starting this week. Please take our online survey to help us with our initiative (

We shared our results of composting and survey with the mayor and council members of Chapel Hill asking them to consider municipal or curbside composting like San Francisco and Seattle. We were happy to show Sen. Foushee and (Former) Sen. Kinnaird the composting initiative at our school cafeteria. We are positive that through all these efforts, not only will Phillips Middle School be a zero-waste school, but Chapel Hill will come closer to being a zero-waste community as well.

This article was written by the Trash Terminators 2.0: Vincent Chen, Rohan Deshpande, Elizabeth Farmer, Quentin Sieredzki and Graeme Zimmermann.

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