HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three Windward Oahu public and charter schools are discontinuing the practice of throwing away uneaten lunches into the trash.
Instead, they're turning their food waste into a valuable product that people are buying.
"It feels good to know that we are helping the world and we're not wasting food," said Kaohao Elementary student Hilina'i Falkner.
After lunch every day, students at Ka'ohao, Kainalu and Kaelepulu elementary schools sort uneaten food for compost.
Classes then prepare the compost for gardening.
"It's hard work but it's worth it because you can help the world and make it better," said Ka'ohao Elementary student Kaleo Fleming.
Since the "Zero Waste Hui" food recovery program started three years ago at Ka'ohao, it's reduced the school's dumpster trash by 90 percent and 80 percent at the other schools.
"I'd use about 25 large trash bags a day, everyday for 5 days a week, for 20 years and now I am just using 5 large trash bags," said Ka'ohao School custodian Jeff Mizuno.
Mindy Jaffe is the creator of the award-winning program. It was ranked number one in the nation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"We did great! In 2017, our three schools collected and processed over 30 tons which is over 60,000 pounds of food waste. All that from just three small schools!" said Jaffe.
"The way they manage waste at the public schools is just criminal," Jaffe said. "Waste is really an incredibly valuable resource if you know what to do with it and composting is easy, natural and fun."
Jordan Nelson also does a lot of the work.
"I am a resource recovery specialist. If you look at the food we're collecting, it's seen as waste and we are changing the mnindset that waste is a resource to be collected and used for a positive means," said Nelson.
Worm bins are also set up throughout the three campuses. The creepy crawlers help break down recycled paper, fruits and vegetables and produce vermicast which is worm poop. It's highly valued by local farmers and growers because, Jaffe explains, "it is packed with nutrients and it makes for a great soil amendment."
What was once trash is now a money-maker. The schools will sell a total of 1 1/2 cubic yards of high quality compost and vermicast to the public on Jan. 27 at Kainalu Elementary School from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"We're not filling dumpsters anymore. With this beautiful, enriched soil, we have better landscaping, beautiful gardens, lovely lawns and educated kids," said Jaffe.