Green Initiatives at GDS: Composting and Removing Plastics

In January, Enviro Club, GDS’ environmental sustainability club, implemented composting bins in the Internet Cafe and the Forum to reduce food waste. In addition, the Student Staff Council (SSC) decided to remove plastic utensils from the Internet Cafe. Enviro Club and SSC want to make GDS a more sustainable school and inspire GDS students to begin composting and reducing plastic usage. Composting and removing plastics will achieve that goal without adding more work for the faculty and staff, according to Enviro co-heads and seniors Abby Murphy and Natasha Zimmermann. 

Murphy said, “It is something that was easy to accomplish and could make a big change in the GDS community.”

According to Murphy and Zimmermann, establishing a composting system was a feasible way to attack the issue of food waste at GDS. The goal is to cut down on waste that would have gone into a landfill and produced massive amounts of landfill methane as it decomposes (or rots). The methane gas develops due to a lack of oxygen in the landfill, whereas food that is composted decomposes with oxygen, which produces mainly carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is less harmful to the environment than methane because it holds 25 times less heat, making composting a better alternative than landfills. In addition, the compost recycles essential nutrients back into the soil, providing rich fertilizer that could be used for GDS’ new garden or given away. 

One of the major challenges of the composting system, however, is students putting non-compostable materials in the compost bins.

“Either we are not going to see them and they are going to be put in the turner and that is going to mess up the compost,” Natasha Zimmermann said about the non-compostable materials, “or we’re going to have to pick through all the food ourselves and get the non-compostable stuff out.” 

Enviro Club members are dedicated enough to take on that unpleasant task but hope their announcements to the entire high school during Monday meetings and follow up emails help remind people to keep non-compostable materials out of the compost bins. 

While it’s still early, students have responded positively, Zimmermann said. She added, “The collective action that is happening right now, including composting and other things, will hopefully get people thinking about their lifestyles and how we as a GDS community can be more sustainable.” 

Similarly, the removal of plastics from the Internet Cafe is an attempt to make GDS greener. Taking away spoons and forks gets students thinking about the environment and how to make a change toward living a more sustainable life. It encourages them to bring washable utensils that cut down on waste. 

Senior Gigi Silla, SSC president, said, “The least we can do is acclimate to the minor inconvenience of bringing metal utensils from home, especially when doing so will have a sizable impact in the long run.” But while many students agree that composting and the removal of plastics are important, necessary steps towards making GDS a greener place, some become frustrated when there is nothing else available with which to eat their soups and salads. 

“Both are good steps,” but the removal of plastics could have been implemented better, junior Ben Adomaitis said. 

Students like Adomaitis feel that plastic utensils were removed too quickly. “Removing all plastics is a great thing, but not having any other alternatives is not such a great thing,” Adomaitis said. Having a bit more warning time, a phasing out period, a substitution of plastic utensils for biodegradable products, or access to compostable utensils during the process were all ways that the removal could have been easier on the students, according to Adomaitis. He explained how students have started sharing utensils or looking for plastic utensils around the school or at restaurants.  

SSC announced its decision to phase out single-use plastics earlier this year and explained that compostable utensils were not possible because D.C. does not have the right composter. And while there were some internal planning difficulties and miscommunication, making SSC unable to send out weekly reminders, the project was aimed towards a long term goal rather than what is most convenient, according to Silla.

Silla said, “I see it as SSC’s role to guide our community in doing not simply what is convenient or easy, but rather to guide our community in doing what is beneficial for the overall, long term health of students and the world in which we live.”