District 65 moves forward with sustainability initiatives, implements lunchroom composting programs in all schools


Daniel Kim/The Daily Northwestern

Composting bins, like this one on Northwestern’s campus, are located in all District 65 lunchrooms as of November 2022.

Kunjal Bastola, Reporter

In early 2023, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 set a We Compost program record for most number of schools within a district participating in food scrap composting, according to the Illinois Food Scrap and Composting Coalition. 

After more than a decade of advocacy work from parents, administrators and community members in all District 65, schools have begun lunchroom composting programs as of November 2022. 

“This has been a many-year journey,” said Karen Bireta, District 65’s sustainability coordinator. 

In 2012, District 65 started a partnership with Collective Resource Compost, a local composting organization. The organizations co-hosted a zero-waste event at Dewey Elementary School later that year to educate students and parents on simple sustainability practices and promote composting in schools. 

Five years later, Collective Resource Compost signed a franchise agreement with Evanston to introduce lunchroom composting to several schools, including the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and Washington Elementary School. The district added several more schools to the agreement each following year.  

“The goal was to educate the children,” said Erlene Howard, founder and owner of Collective Resource Compost. “When you’re trying to work within a community, it’s really helpful that the kids know the importance of composting.” 

According to Bireta, the composting program varies based on each school’s size and preferences. 

At District 65 schools, there are various buckets and bins — including ones labeled landfill, liquid and recycling — for students to deposit corresponding items, along with a compost bucket. 

“We’ve got compostable trays that we’re using across the district, so those can be stacked and added into the compost bin at the end of the lunch period,” Bireta said. 

Collective Resource Compost then collects the composting trays and food scraps weekly.

With more than 160,000 trays composted during the 2021-22 school year, which translated into 77,955 lbs of composted waste, District 65 was able to avoid more than 75,000 lbs worth of carbon emissions. 

Bireta stressed the importance of educating kids about sustainability practices from a young age. She noted that students will bring these practices home, where family members can also start composting.

“I think there are some really nice cascading benefits,” she said. 

Students who grew up attending District 65 schools said they are excited about the steps D65 has taken toward sustainability efforts. 

Former District 65 student Izzy McDermott, now a freshman at Monmouth College, recalled that “a lot of food” went to waste during lunchtime, as many students couldn’t finish their food in the allotted time. For her, seeing composting efforts at her alma mater is impressive. 

“The fact that (the schools) are teaching (students) about this younger, and the district is taking responsibility for their carbon footprint, it’s really cool,” she said. 

With District 65’s composting success breaking records, Bireta hopes to continue sustainability efforts in the future by decreasing single-use items and setting students up for success by lessening the amount of packaging they’re given, such as apple slices in plastic bags or single-use condiments.

She also hopes to support environmental student organizations at District 65 schools.

“I think there’s definitely opportunities through these clubs for our students to get involved and take action on how to improve … and boost sustainability within their schools,” Bireta said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @kunjal_bastola

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