Parth Gupta proposed the idea when he was in third grade, and recruited a “Green Team” by giving presentations throughout the school about the value of recycling food waste.
Now, after two years of running the operation, it has settled into a routine.
The “Green Team,” as they call it, includes 20 fifth graders who take turns finishing lunch early to set up and monitor two compost stations in the cafeteria.
The team’s job is to make sure everything is sorted and all things compostable go into the correct bin.
Parth schedules all their volunteer shifts, although he says it can be “a bit much.”
How it all started
The idea began when Parth noticed the food waste at lunch. Two overflowing trash cans were shared between just two third-grade classrooms.
“I figure if there were two trash cans for just two classrooms, one per classroom, there would be almost 30 overflowing trash cans in the entire school per day,” he said.
When he was in third grade and COVID forced all classes online, he wrote a persuasive letter to Assistant Principal Taryn Brinlee about the benefits of composting.
Once in-person school returned, he gave her a PowerPoint presentation with more detailed information and offered ways composting could be implemented at Cedar Ridge.
“And then we kind of just took off with it,” Brinlee said.
After coming back from virtual classes, lunch was held in classrooms instead of the cafeteria, so Parth began using a compost cart, wheeling it from room to room.
He took responsibility for “training” his classmates and other kids from his grade level about which materials could be composted and which ones could not.
Eventually, he branched out to other grades, creating a slideshow and going from classroom to classroom, sharing everything students should know about composting and its environmental benefits.
“I ask the teachers, ‘When’s a good time for me to present to you,’” Parth said. “And my teacher’s fine with it. As long as I’m not missing math.”
Persistence pays off
When he was in fourth grade, composting had to be put on hold. Cedar Ridge was in the middle of major staff shortages; at one point, the school had two substitute principals. But Parth was persistent.
“He would continue, in an appropriate way, to keep composting on my radar, pushing me to get it up and running again,” Brinlee said.
That year, he gave up to three presentations in a single day, even when the lunchroom was too understaffed to compost.
This year, Cedar Ridge lunches are back in the cafeteria, and for the fifth grade, composting is in full swing.
Back to the future
Although only the fifth grade is composting now, the plan for spring semester is to return to daily composting for fourth grade, and perhaps even third grade, too.
Parth still gives presentations to classes throughout the school with the hope that some day composting will be carried out school-wide.
His passion for the environment is not limited to the classroom, however. Last summer, while visiting family in Edmonton, Canada, his mind was still on composting.
“I’m like, ‘Well, there’s lots of time to kill,’” he said. “So I asked my mom, ‘Can I work on some compost things?’”
Inspired by the citywide composting program in Edmonton and the different types of compost bins he saw at a local recycling facility, he took his new knowledge back to Cedar Ridge.
One of those compost bins he saw over the summer was spool-shaped, which makes it easier to mix the compost together. When he presented this new information to Brinlee, she told him the school was phasing out its nature playground and there would be wooden-spool equipment to repurpose.
So, the Cedar Ridge media specialist, Matt Villasana, with the help of students, turned the leftover parts of the playground into a working compost bin.
An idea multiplies
When he proposed composting at school, Parth did not expect to be running a 20-person team one day, taking on all the extra responsibility.
“If I knew it would be like that, I probably would have stopped doing it, and, like, chickened out,” he said. “So I think it’s good I didn’t get any advance warning.”
Some day he wants to be a doctor or environmentalist, two professions he says can intersect.
His father, Sumit, chimed in, “That’s only if he doesn’t get into the NHL.”
Brinlee firmly believes Parth has made a significant contribution.
“He’s very much interested in having an impact, and he does it in a really effective way,” she said.
“He’s a kid that has a lot of respect from his peers because he treats others with respect and is very kind. It doesn't have to be adults in charge. He can kind of lead the way.”