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SMHS Students Offer Compost Collection To Benefit Environment

Photo courtesy Compost Culture
Sophomores Gianna Karkafi, Elizabeth Bercaw and Maddy Gregg are helping to bring a compost collection program to San Marino.

A group of San Marino students hope to propagate a successful startup service project from neighboring South Pasadena and offer composting service to San Marino residents.
The volunteers have joined onto Compost Culture, a projected started last year by two South Pasadena High School students to offer compost collection service to their city’s residents and businesses. Fresh off the success of winning the competition sponsored by the organization that funded them, the two SPHS students plan to branch out into their neighboring communities.
San Marino was first on the list.
“I was reading about it on their website and I thought it was really cool what they were doing,” explained Gianna Karkafi, a sophomore and cabinet member of the Green Club at San Marino High School. “I thought that the least I could do was help out. The ball just kept rolling and it was a really smooth transition to starting up in San Marino.”
Those who register for Compost Culture will receive a free bin, which residents can fill with their food waste each week for collection. Although volunteers will retrieve the bin in any case, the organization suggests a $15 donation per month to help keep the operation viable.
The collected compost is then donated to the Huntington Library for use in its Ranch Gardens, which includes a number of fruiting and other edible plants. This meshes well with Compost Culture’s broader goal of promoting sustainable environmental practices among people, especially those who may not know where to start. Part of the long-term goal of composting is removing the food products from solid waste disposal operations, where they would contribute to methane emissions.
“They start composting, and maybe they see other areas in their life where they can see the benefits in helping the environment,” said Patrick Latting, one of the SPHS students who founded the project.
Liam de Villa, the other co-founder of Compost Culture, added that they firmly believe that the majority of people ultimately want to contribute to a healthier world.
“Most people do, because obviously you have to survive in the world,” he said, “but we realized that it’s more that people don’t know what to do, not that they don’t want to do it.”
This approach proved to be appealing to the green-minded SMHS students.
“I feel like in general, although everyone does understand what’s happening with environment, it’s a little hard to get involved without overstepping your limits,” Karkafi said. “I feel like this will really help by giving people the opportunity to help out with the environment without overstepping their limits on what they can do.”
Elizabeth Bercaw, another SMHS sophomore who volunteers with Compost Culture, said she thinks it will be a viable program simply because it’s an easy thing to ask residents to do.
“No matter how small your contribution is, we all have something we can do for the environment and this is a great way to help out,” Bercaw said.
When the volunteers rolled out for their first San Marino collection last week, Compost Culture had eight signups, but they are confident that number will grow.
“That’s a proud eight. It’s a lot more important to us to get started and get the ball rolling. We’re excited to grow,” Latting said. “We started with eight or nine [in South Pasadena], and we’re doing 500 pounds of residential compost and 1,100 total a week now.”
In addition to residential collection, food waste from nonprofits like Pasadena-based Friends In Deed also makes its way into Compost Culture’s hands. Additionally, the organization’s representatives set up at the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market each week to collect scraps from nonresidents and on the first Thursday of each month will give away free compost at the market.
The San Marino branch won’t just be signing up residents and collecting compost each week. Through the Green Club, they’re currently also planning presentation to make for elementary school students in town and considering a contest challenging people to amass as much food waste from their homes and neighbors as possible, to help showcase how much waste could be more thoughtfully repurposed.
“I definitely think that at first, not a lot of people knew what it was,” said Maddy Gregg, a sophomore SMHS volunteer. “If we used the right dialogue and showed we were helping them and the environment, they were more interested. Once people find out who we are, I think we will definitely get a lot more signups.”
Added Karkafi: “Even if your goal in life isn’t to be an environmental conservationist — mine isn’t — it’s still really important to be environmentally conscious. We have to take care of our planet.”
Latting and de Villa got started with Compost Culture last year as one of a couple dozen applicants to the Dragon Kim Foundation, which doles out grants for student-led service projects. Those students develop their projects and compete in the organization’s Dragon Challenge, an event reminiscent of a “Shark Tank” television episode.
Last year, Compost Culture won the contest, earning another $5,000 grant to help expand their enterprise. With eyes on other cities and communities in the immediate vicinity, San Marino seemed to be a natural starting point for the expansion.
“I think San Marino and South Pasadena do share a lot of similar community and outgoing qualities,” de Villa said.
To sign up for compost collection or to learn more about composting, visit compostculture.org.

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