CARRBORO- Once again, a group of Chapel Hill middle schoolers looks like a sure bet to bring home the gold in a national science challenge. No matter that, we’re all winners, thanks to the work they do.
“We’re the Trash Terminators 2.0,” Rohan Deshpande announced to aldermen and spectators at Carrboro Town Hall. ”We’re working towards the Lexus Eco Challenge.”
Rohan, a student at Phillips Middle School, is the mainstay member of Trash Terminators, a group of science-minded Chapel Hill kids with a mission to protect the planet from greenhouse gas and methane emissions.
Last year, Rohan and two other students won first place in Siemens’ national “We Can Change the World” challenge. This past Tuesday night, Rohan told Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen how they did it.
“We diverted 25 percent of our trash from going to a landfill,” he reported.
This year’s team of Rohan, Vincent Chen, Elizabeth Farmer, Quentin Sieredzki and Graeme Zimmermann is keeping it going. They’ve entered into the Lexus Eco Challenge, where they’ve made it to the national section. The money they won from that so far has gone back into green initiatives at their school.
The challenge gives teams the opportunity to win up to $30,000 in grants and scholarships for the best ideas about protecting the environment.
During this school year, the Terminators have been addressing a situation created by the closing of the Orange County Landfill last summer.
“This means that trash is being transported to a location that is more than a hundred miles away,” Rohan observed. “This is also adding costs, and creates more pollution.”
The Terminators used a carbon footprint calculator to determine that for every ton of trash the city ships to the new landfill, 57 pounds of carbon dioxide will be emitted, and $55 of taxpayer money will be spent.
The kids also figured out that 55 percent of Phillips’ cafeteria trash is compostable waste. So they started a composting program at the school.
Terminator Quentin told aldermen how they did it.
“We set up composting bins in our school cafeteria,” he said, “in which students and staff dump all their compostable food items, which include food waste, food trays and napkins.”
Brooks Contractor in Goldston collects the compost twice a week. Liquid waste has been diverted from the trash, and recycling efforts have been ramped up.
“Our goal is to send only pure trash to the landfill, which will reduce carbon emission and cost,” said Quentin.
The students managed to reduce trash pickups as well, which saved Phillips School money.
Terminator Vincent Chen said it’s been a schoolwide effort, with students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents involved.
“In the lunchroom, we had parents, students and volunteers to help students with composting during lunch.”
There was a charitable component as well.
“We also started a ‘giving table’ where we keep all the uneaten and unopened food,” said Vincent.
The food is distributed to families on meal plans, and it’s available to students and staff as well.
“We diverted more than 80 percent of the trash going to a landfill by recycling and composting,” said Vincent. “We will divert 20,500 pounds of trash over 180 state days of school at Phillips.”
The plan saves about $550 in gas by reducing shipping. And it will prevent about 574 pounds of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. The kids figure that if all area middle schools adopted this initiative, there would be 41 tons less of trash in landfills over the next school year.
The Terminators spread the word with public information tables, a Time Warner infomercial, and social media outreach.
And they conducted a survey that showed how most citizens would like to see municipal composting.
Alderman Sammy Slade, like all his colleagues, was impressed.
“I would like to partner with y’all to find out how we could do this in Carrboro,” he said. “Because you have so much knowledge.”
Slade recommended that the kids approach the school board about using some of the savings on even more green initiatives.
Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested that the kids look to the State Department of Environmental Resources Division of Solid Waste for a grant.
“Now more than ever, not only municipally, but in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, but in the county, we need this,” she said, “because of the landfill.”
Alderman Damon Seils had the last word, by stating what must have been on everyone’s mind.
“I was just going to make the observation that Chapel Hill and Carrboro just got schooled by the Trash Terminators,” said Seils.