Hill School focuses on sustainability, but students’ efforts are lagging behind


COVID guidelines require more single-use plastic, such as water bottles, in the Dining Hall. Photo By Sarah Wisneski ’21

Rohan Dondeti ’21 contributed to this report.

In recent years the Hill School has been trying to improve its sustainability practices, and despite the numerous measures undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Hill School has been doing very well overall so far. However, the students are not doing their part when it comes to plates and trash in the Dining Hall, even though our school is capable of recycling pretty much anything. Since the 2019-20 school year, the Hill School has taken decisive actions to improve its sustainability practices and became the first school in the United States to participate in the Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) program. This initiative seeks to reshape the recycling industry by connecting consumers, recyclers and producers, and therefore creating a cyclical transfer of plastic to halt the increasing waste of recyclable products.

Over the last decade the movement for waste plastic practices and lower waste has been getting more and more ground, and many organizations such as Plastic Pollution Coalition and The Ocean Cleanup originated to fight pollution. Guided by the environmental push, the packaging industry has seen many advancements in recent years, primarily in the realm of small goods. Flexible plastic packaging (FPP) accomplishes reduced food waste as well as a lighter and more compact form of packaging, yet many companies utilize different kinds of plastic (the famous seven numbers one can find on plastic packaging indicating the chemical composition to ease recycling) that overcomplicate the recycling process. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, only 35.2% of solid waste was recycled in 2017. However, the recycling industry changes as well, with new initiatives taking reprocessing to the next level. 

In order to play its part in the enhancement and the preservation of nature, the Hill School became a part of the Materials Recovery for the Future initiative. MRFF research program — which includes such notable members as The Procter & Gamble Company, Target, Walmart Foundation, The Kraft Heinz Company, Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Chevron Phillips Chemicals and American Chemistry Council — centers around the TotalRecycle materials recovery facility (MRF) in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The TotalRecylce plant belongs to J.P. Mascaro & Sons waste service company based in PA and “accepts all items capable of being recycled, including, but not limited to, plastics #1-7, cardboard (OCC), aluminum, newspaper (ONP), clear and colored glass, steel, tin, e-waste, aseptics, cartons and electronics,” as stated on their website. 

Becoming the first school in the United States to participate in the program, our school is able to compost or recycle all of its waste, aside from waxed coffee cups and tea bags. If Hill students are careful about sorting their trash and are able to maintain a 60% level of plastic in the recycling bins without bringing the paper contamination level to 15%, all of the trash will be recycled into the new composite material — rFlex. TJ Stinson, the recycling coordinator at JP Mascaro, said that The Hill School is doing a good job with its recyclables being “one of [their] better customers,” and so far, all 1380 pounds or 49 cubic yards of waste per week get recycled, which is up 30% from last year.

When it comes to the Dining Hall, this year, the food waste that goes to composting has decreased dramatically – down by 55% from last spring, primarily because with COVID precautions, there are no family meals, and food portions are smaller. Mark Hinlke, the executive chef at the Hill School, reiterated: “As far as food waste goes we are looking at on average 75 lbs of food waste per day which comes out to 525 lbs per week compared to about 1100 lbs last spring and in fall of 2019.” The amount of recycled waste has almost tripled as waste itself increases, primarily due to the new drinking station format with 150 crates of beverages coming to school every week as well as the substitution of metal utensils with plastic alternatives. Overall, the Dining Hall recycles around 3.5 dumpsters a week. Dining Hall composts and produces waste at the same rate of about a dumpster per week, and since the Dining Hall began its composting practices, the waste has been reduced by 50%. 

Even though the Dining Hall has reduced its waste and is working on recycling more effectively, students have not been doing their part. As Operations Manager Lisa Demetrio put it: 

“No one is throwing their trash out properly,” said ….The majority of people have been throwing food out to the trash cans near the Dining Hall exit, but this year the food and napkins are supposed to stay on the plates, which are scraped off and washed downstairs.  

Overall, as the Hill School has transitioned to a more sustainable food processing, it has maintained a relatively steady level of sustainability. Even with COVID adjustments, both the Dining Hall and the campus recycling stay under the required 15% paper contamination level. If the students become more responsible with their food waste especially, Hill’s sustainability practices will only improve.