HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Dining halls at Coastal Carolina University and several Horry County schools are throwing out trash cans and rolling in composting bins for their food waste.

"I have seen people just throw food away, perfect food," said Aaron McFarland, a student assistant for Sustain Coastal at CCU. "Someone could even eat that food before it goes there, so the fact that we can compost it and use it instead of just being wasteful is really important to me."

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority opened a food compost area at its facility along Highway 90 in August. That's now being filled with the food local students didn't eat.

It gets there via SMART Recycling, which has partnered with CCU and Horry County Schools.

"Industries like cafeterias and restaurants, a huge portion of their waste stream is food, so if we can take that out of the landfills, we're going to be filling those landfills a lot less quickly and hopefully never," said Dana Allen, of SMART Recycling.

Dining hall staff at CCU now scrape plates and sort food waste versus trash.

"The staff behind the scenes have actually adapted to it quite well," said Michael Reitman, executive chef for CCU.

At Burgess Elementary, River Oaks Elementary and Ocean Bay Middle, the students themselves are doing the sorting.

"At the end of their lunch, they're walking up and separating their waste," Allen said. "First and foremost it's compost because 80% of what was left over can be composted."

Gregory Sponseller, sustainability analyst for Horry County Schools, said getting the students involved teaches them to be positive members of the community. The pilot program is also making the operational side more efficient, he said.

"The composting program has actually been more effective at diverting waste from the landfill than we originally anticipated and we expect significant reductions in solid waste services at these locations in the coming weeks as we track our diversion rates," he said.

Allen said three tons of food has been picked up at Horry County schools and five tons of compost material has been collected at CCU so far.

"Pretty staggering numbers and we really only see those numbers go up as more people get on board and as the staff begins to understand the program," Allen said.

The compost will turn into nutrient-dense soil in about two months. SMART Recycle plans to buy some of the enhanced soil and donate it to local farmers, who will use it to grow more food.

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