High Schoolers Make Compost Buckets for a Cause: Community Changemakers

Food System
Feb 19th, 2021 | By Alex Lahr

As part of our ongoing Community Changemakers series where we shine a light on the ways individuals and communities are making sustainable change happen, we’ve been asking our readers to share their stories with us. Today we’re sharing the story of the students at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin who have started a homemade compost-bucket fundraiser to address local food insecurity.

Inspired to act as a result of the severity of food waste in the United States, ten students in the Community Problem Solving Club at Madison West decided they could help people waste less and benefit their community at large.

As part of the project, the students make the compost buckets out of everyday supplies, customize them with hand-painted artwork, then sell and deliver them for $10 to any local community member who requests one, with all the proceeds donated to a local food bank. We connected with the group earlier this month to learn more about their project, their inspiration and how they believe others can get involved. [This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

SUSTAINABLE AMERICA: What inspired your team to get involved in reducing food waste?

MADISON WEST STUDENTS: Food waste is a very severe issue in the US. About 40% of the food in the United States is thrown away and ends up in landfills. Our team noticed this problem in our community, as many grocery stores, restaurants, and schools waste considerable amounts of food that could still be used to benefit our environment.

This issue became particularly evident during the pandemic. Our nation wastes lots of food, and yet families still struggle to get food. We then decided how we could help encourage families in our community to take sustainable steps that would help reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in Dane County’s landfill. With the profits we made, we were able to combat the disparities in food distribution by giving to the Second Harvest, a local food bank.

How did you choose Second Harvest Food Bank as your donation recipient?

Second Harvest is a great program that distributes millions of pounds of food each year and actively advocates for ending hunger in Southwestern Wisconsin. Also, many of our team members have volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank, and they’ve enjoyed the community and environment there. Our goal for our project was to help reduce food waste in multiple ways; firstly by selling compost buckets to help dispose of food scraps more sustainably and secondly by donating to local food banks in order to help give food to those in need instead of a landfill.

Is there a goal amount of compost buckets you intend to sell? A target for the amount of food composted?

Our current goal is to sell 100 composters, right now we’re selling compost buckets that are 2 gallons and hope each customer will compost accordingly! The average household creates half a gallon of food scraps a day, meaning that merely 100 composters could prevent thousands of gallons of food waste from being added to landfills every year.

How many buckets have been requested so far?

So far we have sold 51 compost buckets, however, we’ve just partnered up with Clean Lakes Alliance and we will be featured in their newsletter so we hope to double the sales by the end of February.

Where did your team learn to make these compost buckets?

After conducting in depth research about how we can help contribute to reducing the amount of food waste produced in our community, we came across the idea of compost buckets which would be an easy way for them to take action for a more sustainable lifestyle. We found a few tutorials online, which helped us come up with our final design.

We saw your example composter on the order form. Are you planning to paint or decorate all the buckets for those who order them?

Yes, we will be painting all of our compost buckets! We do this so they have a personalized feel, as we still are a group of teenagers and want our creativity to come through.

What has the reaction or reception been like among your parents? Your teachers and community?

We’ve had great support throughout our project! Our parents have helped tremendously with transportation of supplies, as well as our community has been giving us great feedback on Facebook and the app Nextdoor. We have seen many extremely nice comments and we really appreciate the support. West High School has also been very supportive of our project, as our club teacher Ms. Bauer has been incredibly helpful to us and an amazing mentor! We are so grateful to have such a supportive community.

What composting tips or advice are you sharing with community members?

When composting in a backyard pile, make sure that you are only putting in things like vegetables or fruit scraps, old produce, and other plant waste. Some other things that can be possibly composted are egg shells, coffee grounds, and some paper materials. Never compost things like plastic, meat, dairy, or processed food. However, if you are planning to drop your food scraps and a local compost collection, make sure you research what they accept because different places have different rules. If you aren’t sure if you can compost something, look it up!

As for a backyard compost pile, there are many different styles, so we recommend doing some research to see what works best for you. Eartheasy.com has many great resources for people looking to start a backyard pile. And this article from NPR was really helpful for us as we began our project. Once you have made a compost pile and the scraps have decomposed, you can use the compost liberally in your garden! It’s a great natural fertilizer and has many benefits for plants and vegetables.

We’ve been leaving informational infographics about what to compost and how to start a compost pile in each bucket that has been purchased. We’re also planning to start an instagram account where we will post information about the harm of food waste and how to live more sustainably. Be on the lookout for posts on Instagram @westcmps!

What advice would you give to students or other groups looking to start a similar project in their community?

First, we would definitely recommend thinking about local issues that are impacting your community and possible ideas for addressing these issues. Another way to identify solutions would be to talk to local experts. We reached out to some local environmental professors and nonprofits to hear their opinions and get some advice on our project.

We recommend finding a group of students who resonate and care deeply about this problem, so that they are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to create solutions. Creating an impactful project won’t always be easy, so you need a team of people that are passionate about the project and are willing to work on it. We would also encourage students to reach out to local nonprofits and organizations that are in need of help! This would allow you to communicate with local community members, create bonds with influential people, and truly make an impact on your community.

Are you a community changemaker, or do you know someone who is? We’d like to feature them! Visit sustainableamerica.org/contact to submit a story about sustainable change in your community.

Tagged: Changemakers, community changemaker, compost, making a difference, composting, service, sustainability, food waste, food waste project, wisconsin, student leaders

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