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Students at Prince Elementary wrapped up their lunchtime conversations as they created a single-file line stretching the length of the cafeteria.

They were met at the front of the line by school secretary Suzy Dyer, who helped them sort their trash from leftover food, which will be composted and distributed throughout the community.

“I don’t like burritos, but at least I’ll have something to put in the recycle today,” said Prince second-grader Leilani Lopez. “I want to keep the earth clean for the animals.”

The kids went on their way, and continued conversations about how they want to be superheroes for Halloween. Little do they know their lunchtime routine makes them heroes in their own right.

Prince Elementary and Amphitheater Middle schools have partnered with the University of Arizona and Tucson to compost scraps from student lunches.

The project began in early September and both schools have already seen its impact, reducing the amount of lunch trash produced by more than 100 bags.

“Originally custodians and everyone worried about an increased work load, but it’s actually reduced it,” said Amphi Middle Principal Tassi Call.

After lunch, parent volunteers and other school staff help students separate their remaining lunch items into three bins for paper trash, food scraps and Styrofoam trays.

The food scraps are stored in bins on campus, picked up twice monthly by the city and taken to the UA composting site at the San Xavier Co-Op Farm. The compost is then either sold or donated to community gardens.

“The key is there’s a benefit that kids can see,” Marc Lippitt, director of Transportation and Food Service for the Amphitheater school district.

In an effort to try to create a greener environment on campus, Lippitt decided to reach out to UA’s Compost Cats to begin a composting project. He heard about the campus group on a local news segment.

Students from the UA and Amphi Middle worked closely to create video announcements that were geared toward the kids and discussed why food waste was a problem.

The peer approach worked well, Call said.

“Getting college kids to talk about going green makes it more relatable, and something the kids like doing,” Call said.

Prince and Amphi Middle share a campus with more than 1,300 students and are the first schools Compost Cats have worked with. The UA group began in 2010, and has collaborated with numerous local businesses.

“I really hope to see us get more schools on board to get more younger generations to start it,” said UA sophomore Alanna Gerardi. “If we teach a young generation and start with the basics, we can make it a part of their everyday lives.”

Faculty members at both schools hope to teach the kids about the importance of going green, and also as something that they can enjoy doing.

“I’ll do it as long as it’s fun, because I never recycled before it was fun,” second-grader Joshua Scott said.

In addition to the composting, the Amphi schools have also started using Styrofoam trays, which they recycle and melt on site into compact cubes that are later used for things such as photo frames and gardening planters.

Lippitt said by the end of November they will have a better idea of how successful the project is, and if Amphitheater will expand it to more schools.

Stefani Elizabeth Quihuis is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com or 573-4117.

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