Leadership Steamboat takes aim at food waste with new compost machines

The 2018 Leadership Steamboat class prepares to cut the ribbon on a new Earth Cube placed at LiftUp of Routt County in Steamboat Springs on June 7.
Courtesy/Leadership Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS– The 2018 Leadership Steamboat class took on food waste by purchasing three high-efficiency composters that were placed around town last week.

The composters, called Earth Cubes, were placed at LiftUp of Routt County in Steamboat Springs and near dining areas at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Colorado Mountain College.

Each year, Leadership Steamboat participants select a community project to better the Yampa Valley, and this year’s Leadership class decided to purchase the cubes because food waste makes up 30 percent of waste sent to landfills in Routt County, according to a news release issued by the organization.

“We’re just trying to keep the conversation going about food waste,” said Cameron Hawkins, a member of the 2018 Leadership Steamboat class and waste diversion director at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “Food waste is one of the easiest steps that any person can take to fight climate change. It’s something that we all produce, and we all can work to reduce.”

In a landfill, most food waste decomposes anaerobically, which means the organisms decomposing the food waste do not use oxygen. These organisms release methane, a greenhouse gas that traps the suns heat at a rate about 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.

The Earth Cubes use an aerobic decomposition process. The decomposers inside an Earth Cube use oxygen in the process of breaking down food, which produces fewer emissions and doesn’t create such a stench.

The best way to avoid the environmental impacts of food waste is to reduce how much food is being composted or thrown away.

“Composting is a great solution for all that wasted food, but if you’re looking at all the environmental impacts before the food is even in your hands, there’s a lot of water and resources that go into making that food,” Hawkins said. “If we don’t have to compost it, that’s even better.”

Hawkins suggested taking small actions to reduce waste, such as creating a shopping list and making meals from items in the fridge before going to a grocery store.

Each Earth Cube costs $4,500. The Leadership Class set a fundraising goal of $15,000 to purchase the composters and insulators to keep the machines from freezing and surpassed the goal by $2,000. The extra funds were used to purchase a newspaper advertisement thanking sponsors of the project. The remaining dollars were divvied up between LiftUp, the middle school and CMC to support maintenance of the equipment. Each organization received about $500.

Steamboat Springs Middle School will use the Earth Cube as a lesson in the lunchroom. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders who volunteer for the school’s sustainability club, the Green Team, will learn about composting and food waste. The Green Team will then present programs to other students about waste.

“One of my biggest desires is to help students better understand sustainability and how to maintain a more sustainable place to live,” said Mindy Mulliken, an eighth-grade math and science teacher who helps coordinate the Green Team.

The school already participates in a competition to see which grade can produce the least food waste over a number of lunch periods, Hawkins said.

“This will continue that education by making them more responsible for the full life cycle of the food that they’re putting in the food waste bin,” Hawkins said.

Compost produced by the Earth Cubes will be used by the three facilities where they are collecting waste, Hawkins said.

CMC will use it in its Bear Park permaculture garden. LiftUp will use the compost it produces in its greenhouse.

At the middle school, Mulliken believes the project can grow into the community. In the future, she’d like to see community compost days, where residents could pick up compost produced by the middle school.

Though she’s excited to bring more conversations about waste and sustainability to the school, there is one thing about the project that concerns Mulliken — getting a horde of middle schoolers to properly sort their waste at the end of lunchtime.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “When you have over 200 students in the lunchroom, and they all want to throw away their lunch at the same time, it turns into a disaster immediately … We’re really wanting to plan for that really well, because I know that will be one of our greatest challenges.”

Contact Eleanor C. Hasenbeck at 970-871-4210. Follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.