Students Fight Poverty and Pollution

How high school students use green technology to reduce waste and generate funds for the needy

Sparta Wisconsin, November 15,2016– Students, teachers and community members share honors for using state-of-the-art waste reduction technology to combat greenhouse gas emissions. When the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced the 2015/2016 Standing Up for Rural Wisconsin awards, one of them went to Sparta High School in the town of Sparta. The story leading up to this award began last year when students in the school’s “Earth Club” began examining the consequences of how the school’s cafeteria food waste was being disposed of. Counseled by German teacher Joe Cook, the students soon discovered that the cafeteria sent more than 250 pounds of organic waste per day to the Monroe County landfill. Further research revealed the startling fact that when food waste decomposes in a landfill, it releases Methane which is 23 times more damaging to the environment as is carbon dioxide. For every ton of food waste that decomposes in a landfill, 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere.

There had to be a better way of getting rid of food waste. Time for more research.

After reviewing the available organic waste disposal technologies, the Sparta students decided upon a highly efficient organic dehydration system called the Ecovim. This technology, distributed by a New Mexico company called Integrated Veterans Services, or IVS, is capable of reducing organic food scraps to drinkable water and a dry, environmentally benign compost that can be used as a soil enhancer or fertilizer. By using the Ecovim, the students calculated that the 250 pounds of waste produced by Sparta High School’s cafeteria each day could be reduced to 28 pounds of dry, reusable compost and 25 gallons of water – with no harmful emissions. To raise the funds to purchase the Ecovim, students in the Earth Club pledged to collect funds for the Ecovim purchase by canvassing their community asking for support from private businesses and charitable organizations like the Kiwanis and Rotary. The funds raised by the students were complemented by a $10,000 contribution from the school board and a $5,000 discount granted by IVS.

Since the Ecovim has been installed, students, school staff and volunteer community members have been handling operation of the unit. Students have organized a pre-processing protocol where plates are collected, knives, spoons and forks are removed, and the food waste is collected and placed into the Ecovim. It is projected that the Sparta Ecovim will process approximately twenty tons of food by the end of the current school year. This is 20 tons of waste that will not go into a landfill and release 76 tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

The benefits of Sparta High School’s award winning waste reduction initiative go beyond the obviously positive environmental impact. Sparta High School Senior Jackie Page said “Not only are we reducing our food waste, but we’re also increasing student awareness of the problem.” She went on to say that the dehydrated output of the Ecovim is being sold as fertilizer to raise money for the local Needy Child Fund. Sparta High School teacher and Earth Club advisor Joe Cook summed up by saying “Again, it goes back to our original premise – how can we reduce what we’re sending to the Monroe County landfill? And if more of us get involved with this initiative, it’s a way for not only our high school, but also our community, and in the long run it’s promoting twenty first century skills for our young people. Our planet is going to need this kind of forward thinking. It’s wonderful to see that happening.”

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