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Is 80/20 In The Trash?
Clara Chae '23 Associate Editor
October 31, 2020

Deerfield’s ability to uphold its sustainability goals is one of the many sacrifices that have been made in bringing students back to campus. 

“Think 80/20 as a concept really took a hard shot,” said Environmental Management Coordinator David Purington when referring to COVID-19 restrictions this year.

Think 80/20, one of Deerfield’s main sustainability initiatives, is a program dedicated to keeping the school’s landfill waste below or at 20% of its total refuse. The school has been able to achieve this goal in the past by employing a combination of reusing, recycling, and composting. 

The first aspect of Think 80/20 is reusing. Deerfield has partnered with the Institutional Recycling Network (IRN) for years to send gently used equipment to other countries in order to reduce the school’s amount of waste. This can include anything from classroom technology equipment to toilets, sinks, and faucets. 

Deerfield made its most recent shipment in partnership with the IRN in the fall of 2019, when they donated furniture and equipment from the Dewey Health Center to an organization based in Tanzania. Mr. Purington said, “Ultimately, we sent more than 160 items – from trash cans and bulletin boards to exam tables and hospital beds.”

The second strategy the Academy implemented for Think 80/20 is recycling. The school has been able reduce its waste in the past by making it a priority to constantly expand the recycling program.

In prior years, the school used a company called Amherst Trucking for waste management. They had a specific truck to pick up paper and cardboard, and a separate one for bottles and cans, which was how Deerfield sorted its recyclables.

Amherst Trucking was recently sold to a larger company, however, called U.S.A. Waste. Since COVID-19, “U.S.A. Waste has adopted what they call ‘Single Stream’ as their model,” Mr. Purington said. “So even if we continued with all the toters outside, they were still going to show up with one truck.” Because of this, paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans are no longer being separated, though the dorm containers have not changed.

In addition, the school has stopped collecting plastic bags and styrofoam. These materials require extra people to pick up in the dorms. “We recognized that one of our important goals was to have as few people as possible in the dormitories,” explained Mr. Purington.

Finally, the school has focused on strengthening its composting program in the past few years to commit to Think 80/20. This included implementing dorm-wide composting last year, stocking the Koch and Greer Cafes with compostable napkins, cutlery, containers, and cups, and developing a thorough composting system in the Dining Hall. 

Deerfield has put on hold composting during meal times and in dorms due to COVID-19. According to Michael McCarthy, Director of Food Services, “The biggest two things are the bottled water and the takeout containers” when it comes to the dining hall’s increase in waste. Another downside, he said, is that “we haven’t been able to compost the take out containers, even though they are compostable.”

Despite the lack of composting available for students, the dining hall kitchen is still trying to stay as green as possible. Mr. McCarthy said, “We’ve been sourcing mainly compostable items: forks, knives, spoons, the pasta cups and lids.” He added, “We’re still [composting] food scraps from prep food, egg shells, vegetable and meat scraps” and “buying a lot of our food locally, like our produce and grass fed beef.”

Deerfield faculty are also stepping up and making sure they are doing their best to contribute to the school’s composting goals. “I’ve had a lot of faculty ask me what to do with trash from their kitchens and houses and we’ve been able to create a place for them to participate again,” Mr. Purington recounted.

Although Think 80/20 has had to be put partially on hold, the school can still commit to sustainability in other ways. Mr. Purington mentioned, “I am looking at a solar project as part of the facilities team, and we are also doing some long term planning on how we might be able to change the way we provide heat and electricity for the school over the next 20 years.”

“I have a lot of confidence in the school’s ability to get back to those programs as soon as it’s allowed,” Mr. McCarthy said. He stressed to the community that “this is painful for a lot of us to do” and that “we’re all super committed to sustainability not only in the dining hall but all around campus.”