Fairfax Schools are On the Road to Composting

Marshall Road Elementary School has made sustainability a central theme. Marshall Roads’ Principal Matthew Chapman and staff believe one of their responsibilities is to guide children in being environmentally conscious. Located in Vienna, Virginia, the school has over 700 students who have proven receptive and enthusiastic about composting, not without some planning from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

Monica Nuno has been advocating for composting to other members of the community as a current PTA member. After Zero Waste Trace recommended Compost Crew, Nuno presented the opportunity to divert food waste from local landfills and help Marshall Road Elementary School take another step towards going green. The PTA generously agreed to support this composting program. 

Another parent  who greatly influenced the trajectory of this program is Christene Hendon who, to relieve the PTA of some financial burden from this important waste reduction program, applied for an AWS InCommunitiesNorthern Virginia Sustainability Fund grant. This grant helps organizations invest in stewardship and sustainability projects such as composting . When other schools reach out, the school happily shares their insight on opportunities like the AWS grant and details about haulers like Compost Crew who could handle their quantity of organic waste.

 “One student stopped me to say that she had stopped her sister from throwing away a banana peel. The student told her sister that she could just save all of them so she could take them to school the next day!”

-Christene Hendon, FCPS PTA Member and Teacher at Marshall Road Elementary

Both Nuno and Hendon compost at home, taking advantage of local Compost Crew drop-off location at the I-66 Transfer Station as well as the County’s farmers markets.

Environmental advocacy, stewardship and emotional well-being are values that are incorporated year round at Marshall Road. Hendon is a parent of a student at the school, serves as a teacher, and takes care of the vermicomposting system at the school and tending to the school garden where they grow pumpkins, corn and tomatoes. During Hispanic Heritage Month, they make pico de gallo and salsa from their garden-grown tomatoes!

“…The food even tastes better! Seeing this process [of gardening] encourages students to think about  what you plant, what you can make with it, how you can eat it, and where scraps can go afterwards through composting.”

-Monica Nuno, FCPS PTA member

Children may enjoy the vegetables in the garden, but they also love candy! Since candy wrappers aren’t accepted in commingled recycling, the school orders a Trick-or-Treasure box from Rubicon. They have also found an opportunity to recycle broken crayons, pens, pencils and markers with Terracycle These boxes are filled and sent back throughout the year. Other than recycling, FCPS hosts the largest Bike-to-School day to reduce the number of cars on the street. 

During April, Marshall Road has events to engage students and the community with a variety of Earth Month activities like stopping by classrooms with bins to play a sorting game with students. Compost Crew was invited to their Spring Garden Clean-up to talk about the importance of composting to positively impact our local soils.

Our Compost Outpost Operator and Organics Sales Representative, Tim, couldn’t help but come from around the information booth during their Earth Month celebration. It was time to get his hands dirty to help fill their raised beds for planting!

A week out of Earth Month consists of special programming that caters to earth education and even a waste competition. Throughout the week, each classroom collects all of their waste and weighs it in by the end of the week. In order to win, students are encouraged to strategize to find ways to reduce waste, from bringing their own water bottles to even bringing a ketchup bottle to avoid using condiment packets. The class that has the lightest weight wins an ice cream party but, in the end, there is also an environmental reward!

Marshall Road has decreased the school’s trash by 6 tons since January 2023, when they began their composting journey. Custodians have voiced their appreciation for lighter bins and little to no smell when hauling trash from the school. Compost Crew picks up four 95-gallon bins from this school, each week. Since January, Marshall Road Elementary School has diverted 7,000 pounds and counting!

Investing in composting is an investment in our students, their future and the health of our planet. We are hopeful that other schools are on the road to composting!