A pile of trash was the inspiration for Shanvanth Arnipalli's senior-seminar project.
To be fair, the trash pile was pretty large – a Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio landfill, in fact.
Arnipalli said he visited the site for a class project and he began thinking: What could he do to reduce the waste being generated at New Albany High School?
His idea blossomed into a student-led initiative that secured a $500 grant from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to build three compost bins for the high school's cafeteria.
Arnipalli, 17, said teacher Ali Laughbaum advised him to get involved with the high school's HOPE Club after he shared his senior-seminar idea. Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work.
The HOPE Club is the environmental student group that focuses on ways to reduce the school's carbon footprint, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.
HOPE is an acronym for Help Our Planet's Environment, he said.
Club activities include growing fresh vegetables and plants in the district greenhouse at New Albany Intermediate School, he said.
A core group of HOPE Club students, including Arnipalli, club president Zaina Kret, vice president Sunnie Fireman, treasurer Manasa Akella and creative director Chloe Platte, all of whom are 16-year-old juniors, attended the zoo's Teen Eco Summit on Nov. 2 and 3.
The summit, the first for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, featured workshops on sustainability initiatives, according to a press release. Student teams were then able to develop sustainability projects for their own schools.
While the HOPE Club successfully received funding from the Columbus Zoo, additional funding is also a possibility.
Arnipalli said he and HOPE Club members also applied for a $4,000 grant from SWACO. Although the grant hasn't been awarded, the students have heard they likely will receive up to 90 percent of what they requested, he said.
Arnipalli said he was encouraged to target the cafeteria because custodial staff members said a majority of the waste is compostable.
The HOPE Club will build three compost bins outside the cafeteria in a sloped, grassy area, Akella said.
"It's not really being utilized for anything," she said.
The bottom of the slope, where water often collects, will be turned into a rain garden, Akella said.
The composted material will be added to the garden to grow produce that perhaps the cafeteria could use.
Twenty or so HOPE Club members would direct students during lunchtime to dispose of compostable items in the bins, Akella said.
"Our goal is eventually within a few years that this kind of becomes habit," she said.
Although some food products are compostable, one item circulating throughout the cafeteria on a daily basis is not – the Styrofoam tray.
Arnipalli and the rest of the HOPE Club students, however, have made a plan for how to divert that waste from the landfill, as well.
HOPE Club members will collect, clean and shred trays to sell to UPS, which will use the material for packaging, he said.