Central Ohio's Kids that Compost: Growing group promoting food-waste recycling

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
From left, Audrey Norris, 14, an eighth-grader at Columbus School for Girls; Elise Barber, 13, an eighth-grader at Columbus School for Girls; Sophie Chapman, 11, a sixth-grader at Grandview Heights Schools' Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School; and Hudson Barber, 11, a fifth-grader at Edison/Larson, do composting chores at the Grandview Heights Services Department facility on Glendale Road on April 25 as part of the Kids that Compost organization based in Grandview.

In many households, parents direct their children to clean their plates at the dinner table.

An organization that has expanded over the past two years from its roots in Grandview Heights to about a dozen central Ohio communities gives youths leadership roles in helping residents convert the food they don't eat into compost material instead of landfill refuse.

Kids that Compost was founded in 2019 by Mona Barber, a Grandview resident whose family regularly would take the compost material generated at home to a local farmers market for disposal.

Kids that Compost looks to harness the passion and energy youths bring to a project they care about, she said.

The environment is an issue on the minds of a lot of children, and Kids that Compost empowers youngsters to help make a difference, Barber said.

"They can be a leader in their home, in their school and in their community on this issue," she said.

In summer 2019, Barber said she broached city officials with the idea of whether Grandview could start a curbside food-waste recycling program similar to one operated in Bexley.

"It's quite an endeavor, and I realized it would take a really long time to get the buy-in to get a community-wide program off the ground," she said.

But Barber wanted to encourage the residents in her town to consider composting, so she recruited some young people to help her conduct a door-to-door effort to talk to neighbors and gauge their interest in participating in a curbside collection program.

She created Kids that Compost as a Grandview-based group that in 2020 partnered with the city to establish a drop-off location for food waste behind the former site of the city's service-department offices at 1525 Goodale Blvd.

As word of the local Kids that Compost group began to spread among her friends and associates, Barber said, residents from other communities began to ask how they could start a similar effort in their community.

Branching out, stepping up

Over the past two years, Kids that Compost has recruited youths to form teams or support composting efforts in about a dozen communities and neighborhoods, including Blacklick, Clintonville, Dublin, Eastmoor, Grove City, Hilliard, New Albany, Short North, Olde Towne East, Powell, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington, Westerville and Worthington, she said.

The team members have engaged in a variety of activities to help spread the word about composting in their specific communities and throughout central Ohio, Barber said.

That includes speaking in their schools, creating public-service announcements for Rumpke and the Nickelodeon cable TV channel, giving out bags of compost and mulch and operating informational booths at local events and operating lemonade stands near their homes or out in their communities, she said.

While giving out free refreshments at the lemonade stands, the KTC volunteers also give visitors information on why composting is a good and valuable idea, Barber said.

Each year, about 337 million pounds of food waste is tossed into the garbage, SWACO executive director Ty Marsh has said. 

"It doesn't decompose, so the food waste just sits there and rots and the methane gas generated harms our environment," Barber said.

Kids that Compost coordinates a program through which central Ohio residents can sign up for weekly curbside pickup of their food waste at their homes, she said.

For a $20 monthly fee, KTC will provide a resident with a recycling container with liner for food waste and arrange for a weekly pickup of the material and for a replacement liner each week, Barber said.

The food waste is collected by Go Zero, a food-compost courier, and taken to a composting facility for conversion into soil.

KTC serves more than 25 communities through school programs and residential curbside pickups, Barber said.

About 250 central Ohio residents have signed up for the curbside program, she said.

Sophie Chapman 11, a sixth-grader at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School, fills a bucket of compost while Audrey Norris, 14, an eighth-grader at Columbus School for Girls, takes a break April 25.

Explaining why they're involved

Approximately 100 youths have participated in a Kids that Compost event or are part of a youth team, she said.  

KTC youth team members from several communities talked with ThisWeek about why they joined the group and their views on the impact of composting.

Riley and Jack Jensen are brothers who live in Dublin.

"I got involved in KTC because I think we can make the earth a better place," Riley, 10, said. "It's important to me because other generations should have a healthy life just like us."

"We were already composting in our backyard, and my grandparents composted, too," Jack, 12, said. "Food waste is toxic in landfills."

"Composting is important because if you don't compost your food, scraps turn into toxins that hurt people and animals," Riley said.

"We need to compost to make the world more clean and healthy," Jack said.

"Being part of KTC makes me feel good because I am helping to lead an organization that could change the world," Riley said. "I think it’s important to see that kids can do anything."

Pia Charlton, 14, is a team leader in New Albany. She became involved in Kids that Compost because she wanted to do more to help the environment, she said.

"There is so much that can destroy our planet, and nobody is talking or doing anything that can help, so I wanted to try," she said. "It's a small step, but once one person does something, someone else might follow."

Pia said she has joined the KTC effort when it was merely an idea.

"I remember when a few kids met up and came up with the design on the bucket, and then we went to go pass around brochures about Kids that Compost," she said. "My brother and I would also set up lemonade stands around New Albany and would tell people about Kids that Compost when they brought a cup of homemade lemonade last summer.

"I also visited a landfill with a larger group of kids in Kids that Compost and learned about small things I could do to lower the amount of trash that comes into the landfill everyday."

People need to get involved with composting "because as much as I hope one person could fix the world, that's not how it works," Pia said.

"For the world to stop dying, we need a lot of people to start doing things," she said. "One person joining and doing a simple thing of putting their food waste into a different bin, then there is hope in humanity again."

It's important that Kids that Compost is led by children, Pia said, "because it’s our generation that will have to live with the problems of pollution even though we did not make it."

Elise Barber, a 13-year-old eighth-grader in Grandview Heights, is Mona Barber's daughter.

After her mother started the Kids that Compost concept, "the values for the organization really resonated with me," Elise said. "The issue of food waste is important because we only have one earth, and we need to be able to cherish our planet for however long we have left with it."

Getting others involved

A compost drive held April 25 was one of her favorite KTC activities, Elise said. The youth volunteers scooped compost into the buckets that people brought and could take back to use in their gardens.

"It's important for people to get involved with composting their food waste at home because it is really doing your own small part for the environment and saving our planet," she said. "Being a part of KTC makes me feel like I am doing my part in saving the world."

Jacey Cassandra is an Upper Arlington resident and a sophomore at Columbus School for Girls. Her longtime interest in the environment and working to "protect the planet" led her to join KTC after hearing about it from Elise Barber, who is a friend of Jacey's younger sister.

"I just always have been a big advocate for our planet, and this organization was a perfect fit for me," Jacey said.

In talking to residents around Upper Arlington, she said, she has found people are pretty receptive to the idea of composting once they understand how it works and how it benefits the environment.

"Part of it is just getting used to a new concept," Jacey said. 

Recycling itself probably seemed like too much trouble at one time to people, but most people now embrace the practice, she said.

Kids that Compost can help educate people about the need to recycle their table scraps, Jacey said.

More information about Kids that Compost is available at kidsthatcompost.org and facebook.com/kidsthatcompost.

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