Shawnee Mission School District recycling and compost program recognized by EPA

Photo courtesy Shawnee Mission School District
Belinder Principal Steve Yeoman helping students toss their food and paper into the compost bin.

A recycling and composting campaign begun at Briarwood Elementary School in 2008 has sprouted throughout the Shawnee Mission School District, earning it recognition from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA Region 7 recently recognized the district through its Sustainable Food Management Recovery Challenge program. Currently, 23 schools are participating, diverting more than 70 percent of cafeteria waste from landfills.

Parents at Briarwood initiated composting at the school and it worked so well, other schools began adopting it,” said Joan Leavens, coordinator of sustainability and community engagement for the district.

Composting and recycling is now occurring at 23 schools with an annual average of 89 tons of food waste and 21 tons of recycled waste. The food waste is converted to compost by Missouri Organic for use in gardens and urban farms.

Each participating school has designated waste barrels in their cafeterias: green for compost, blue for recycling and gray for trash.

“It’s a great success story,” Leavens said.

By the end of 2018, the Shawnee Mission School District would like to have all its schools and administrative offices participating. The Johnson County Department of Health & Environment weighs the materials and helps staff to launch the program at each school.

Leavens, a former Shawnee Mission school board member, said the district’s composting and recycling effort was recognized by the Mid-America Regional Council in 2011.

She said the district’s presentation to the MARC board was helped by students organized by Leigh Anne Neal, assistant superintendent for communications.

“Usually, MARC presentations are dry, but Leigh Anne organized young children to come in from each school,” she said. “They made their presentations one by one and at the end got a standing ovation.”