Foodcycler at Begbie View Elementary
Climate Action using critical thinking to reduce anaerobic fermentation in our landfills.
Over the last few years, I have been teaching climate change education to my students. We look at all aspects of GHG emission increases: transportation, electrical generation, industrial agriculture, resource extraction, hyper consumerism, and methane from organics in landfills. As a class, we explore what lifestyle changes students can make to reduce their carbon footprint.
Some issues are too big for our students to make change, but many are not. We learned about the importance of local food production, not bugging our parents for unnecessary drives in vehicles, about packaging, etc. We lived the quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead.
One of the activities we do at the beginning of the year was a garbage audit. We take no measures to divert waste for two days, and then lay out our garbage on the classroom floor and start sorting. Rich discussions take place about the fact that recycling is not doing our part for the planet. Such an idea is like saying we are helping out around the house if we flush the toilet. Students love the analogy. We then look at ways to reduce our impact in class. A summary of what we do is: bring small reusable containers instead of buying individually packaged snacks, take any single use packaging home to be recycled, find solutions for our needs by reusing and upcycling, reduce our paper consumption, and of course, we have been composting for years.
Our climate change lessons also talk about the idea that we have gotten in this mess because of 1000 different problems (death by a thousand cuts), so then we are going to need to have survival by a 1000 solutions. These solutions will be different for different people, there’s no silver bullet. We talk about wants versus needs too. So, the Foodcycler was an interesting addition to this project. We had already been composting when it arrived in our room. The kids loved the machine, especially how the finished product spelled so nice, a mix of banana and citrus they decided.
We kept the dried material in an open bin to illustrate how much less volume there was and how easy it was to deal with, as opposed to what we had been doing; me taking the compost home and storing it in giant garbage cans all winter, and then my husband mixing it in with our regular compost (a physically demanding task when you consider we had three full garbage cans by spring) when the snow had melted.
The class also had to deal with the fact that we had good discussions about energy conservation. Our electricity in BC is mainly generated by hydroelectric dams, and we live on the Columbia River, a river whose watershed has been dammed a total of 39 times for this purpose. Within 150 km of our school there are two dams (Mica and Revelstoke) that produce 40% of the province’s power. We know firsthand the impacts and realities of such an impact on the natural landscape. Indigenous and settler peoples were displaced, sometimes violently and against their will; flora and fauna were destroyed, never to be recovered (sturgeon, salmon, songbirds, etc); giant swaths of valley bottom, globally unique inland temperate rainforest was logged to make room for the rising water of the reservoir; our micro-climate here dramatically changed as a result of this new ‘lake’ which is 150 km long and at times over a kilometer wide, and local food production ceased when the reservoir was made and farms flooded. Students understand electrical conservation must happen at a massive scale if we are not going to have this happen again and again to our rivers.
We took a deep dive into our electrical consumption by listing all the electrical devices that have sprung up in the last 60 years, and then rated their ‘valuableness’ and categorized them: what were we doing before it was created, how helpful is it, could we do without it? The vast majority, like hair dryers, coffee makers, curling irons, microwave ovens, electric shavers, electric toothbrushes, laminator, blenders, portable speakers, sandwich makers, rock tumblers, (you get the picture), are in fact not necessary, and are contributing to massive disturbances in the environment because of the associated activities of resource extraction, manufacture, distribution, and disposal, for each product.
Looking around the classroom we dealt with these things by no longer using the electric pencil sharpener, stopped sending items to the school laminator, turning off the decorative Christmas lights and lava lamps. Then we turned to our Foodcycler. We eyed it with the same lens we had been using all year and made some interesting conclusions, homing in on the idea that different situations call for different solutions. I personally love it because I don’t have to haul waste home every few days all winter, but was it necessary in our room since I could do that task? What if everyone had one?
It was time to decide if the Foodcycler was one of the 1000 solutions for our specific situation. But then…. Life intervened. I am about to take a leave from my job to take care of my 91-year-old mother and a new teacher is taking over. She is likely not able to manage the myriad of demands of this classroom, and pack composting to my house every few days. The Foodcycler will be amazing for her as she takes over the class! What will happen next year? I will probably continue using the machine with my class and the neighbouring class, and in the summer train the daycare in our school to use it in the summer, as outlined in my application.
The Foodcycler complimented lessons on methane from organics in the compost and the critical look at reducing our electrical and product consumption as a society.
Reflection & Celebration
The students will have a local food potluck later in June to celebrate our efforts and to make the final group decision, via the consensus model of decision making. I am very curious to see what they decide, regular compost or the Foodcycler. If they choose regular compost, then we will decide who would be best to host the Foodcycler. There are a number of teachers who do not compost in their rooms, and who have shone a great deal of interest adopt the Foodcycler if this is what the students decide. Excellent critical thinking will happen!
Check out this video of our project!