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A Community Effort

The Steward School
Steward digs into composting
Walk around The Steward School and you see growth everywhere: in the lushness of our campus, in the changes that the Bryan Lab community garden brings with its seasonal vegetables, flowers, and plants … and in our students, who blossom inside and outside the classroom.

Another kind of growth is happening, too: Our longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability now includes an upgraded composting plan! Students, faculty, and staff can now use specially designated composting bins in the Middle School Dining Commons to deposit compostable items such as food, plates, napkins, utensils, and pizza boxes.

Full Circle
Megan Young, Bryan Innovation Lab specialist, spearheaded the initiative after being inspired by conversations with students. 

“I talked to students over the past several years who were concerned about the amount of waste in the Middle School Dining Commons,” she recalled.

Last year, Ms. Young collaborated with Upper School Science Teacher Lexi Bach to design a circular economy — a sustainable model designed to decrease waste. Their students brainstormed ways to lessen the amount of waste on campus; Rowan McMillan ’23 took on tackling waste in the Middle School Dining Commons. In her interviews with Anne Maury Haapala, director of dining services, she realized there was no space for a dishwasher, so she proposed composting.

When in Doubt …
An environmental ad hoc committee, which was formed in conjunction with the school’s new strategic plan, Compass 2028: Inspire the Future, assisted in the kickoff of the new plan by monitoring the waste bins. 

“This helped ensure that students and adults correctly disposed of items,” said Ms. Young, who shared the composting plan at a recent faculty and staff meeting. “Our catchphrase, ‘When in doubt, throw it out!’ helps us all remember what we can and cannot deposit in the bins.” Ms. Haapala created eye-catching signs in the Dining Commons to aid everyone in sorting items.

Initial Findings 
In the first 18 days of the composting project, Steward diverted an impressive 870 pounds of food scraps and organic material from landfills. Through our efforts, the estimated emissions saved are equal to:
  • 593 net pounds of CO2 saved
  • 676 miles driven by an average vehicle
  • 10 incandescent lamps switched to LEDs
  • 26 gallons of gasoline consumed
Doing Our Part
Although takeaway boxes, plastic cups, and soup containers are currently not compostable, even small changes can make a big difference. 

“I’m thrilled that so many faculty and staff are bringing their own reusable containers and utensils from home; plus, we now have ceramic soup containers available for faculty and staff,” said Ms. Young. “And we encourage everyone to bring their water bottles to lunch rather than use disposable cups.” 

Thinking Ahead
Steward has long made it a priority to have a cleaner, more sustainable campus. 

“Pre-COVID, the school participated in industrial composting in the Dining Commons,” said Ms. Young. “And the Bryan Lab has been using Natural Organic Process Enterprises (NOPE) for years to collect our yard waste.” NOPE facilitates the collection and transportation of organic materials to a composting facility. Ms. Young added, “We also do our own backyard composting at the Bryan Lab in which Middle School advisory students help us compost kitchen food scraps.” 

Starting in January 2024, Steward brought back industrial composting in the Middle School Dining Commons. An organic-composting company supplies Steward with giant bins, which get filled with compostable items. This waste goes to a facility that is heat-treated and therefore can break down a wider range of materials. The company delivers the waste to a local farm for use as compost for its herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Home Work
Ms. Young encourages Steward families to explore how they can include composting in their daily lives. Napkins, paper, towels, brown bags, and food are compostable. When packing a lunch, Spartans are encouraged to consider eliminating single-use products and instead use bento boxes, plastic containers, and reusable plastic bags and utensils. 

“Instilling an appreciation for the environment, and for the effort required to care for it, is top of mind,” said Ms. Young, who is also planning schoolwide programming to coincide with Earth Day, which takes place in April. She added, “Be on the lookout for more information about how the school will increase its composting efforts in the classroom and beyond!”
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The Steward School
11600 Gayton Road
Richmond, VA 23238

phone: (804) 740-3394
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