Singapore takes food waste seriously; the government has stated its official aim to become a zero-waste nation. So how does UWCSEA, with our mission to educate for a sustainable future and desire to respond to our community’s needs, tackle this issue?
At an operational level, the College works closely with Sodexo, our food services provider, who reduces food waste through advanced purchasing and monitoring systems and educational outreach. Primary School students take part in Sodexo’s ‘Wasteless Week,’ which encourages a more mindful selection of food. Students have also joined Sodexo in collecting and charting food waste data as part of their curriculum.
East Campus Environmental Stewardship Coordinators Adam Erikson and Kath Lane are trialling compost systems with different classes and service groups (worm composting is a favourite in the Infant School).
At Dover, a High School composting initiative, initially funded by a gift to the UWCSEA Foundation, has been integrated into the Grade 5 curriculum. On any given Primary School lunch hour, you will see a group of Grade 5 students collecting coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable peelings from our café and canteens. Up to 50 litres a day of this food preparation ‘waste’ is wheeled to the campus composting bins where it is mixed with leaves to create compost.
Once dropped off by the Grade 5s, the compost is regularly and laboriously ‘turned’ by volunteer Grade 11 and 12 students (in 2011, a group of High School students set up and started (and continue) the composting initiative as a labour of love) to aid in decomposition. Once ready, the bagged compost is used as fertiliser by the Incredible Edibles gardening project Activity, in two garden areas on campus. The Incredible Edibles group recently sold some of their produce at the Dover Holiday Fair, and eventually hope to offer fruit and vegetable produce for use by Sodexo—an exciting example of a circular economy, where systems are designed for sustainability and are self-supporting.
During the course of one academic year, all 200 Dover Grade 5 students will have collectively diverted approximately 8,000 litres of food waste from incineration and landfill.
Hugh Pollard, Head of Grade 5, said, “Beyond the environmental benefits of composting, the programme is also linked directly to the Grade 5 curriculum. In the first Unit of Study for the year, ‘Web of Life,’ the students specifically question ‘How are plants and animals interdependent?’ while considering food chains, including the final step in the chain, which is the decomposition of nutrients. Through this investigation and research, the importance of composting becomes quite explicit as the compost goes back into the school gardens to help grow produce.
The composting activity also connects to another question within the curriculum unit, ‘How does human activity affect the balance of nature?’ Although this is mostly to do with negative impacts such as deforestation, in the case of UWCSEA, we look at the positive impacts from student efforts to put food nutrients back into the soil of our school ecosystem.”
As for other learning, the students do this work (composting), which is hot, sweaty and smelly. They can feel proud of their efforts and the knowledge that they are setting an example and actually walking the sustainability talk.
Hugh says, “As Head of Grade, it has been very inspiring to see the Grade 5s work with the High School students to create a successful solution to a real world problem; exactly the sort of collaborative, problem-solving project that exemplifies the UWCSEA mission.”
Recently, Dover’s composting initiatives were featured in an article and video on Channel News Asia. It was clear from the positive response that many readers and viewers were inspired by the students; so while food waste is still a huge problem for the College and Singapore, perhaps the hard work and commitment of everyone involved in this project has got us closer to achieving our mission to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.