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Franklin - Local Town Pages

Franklin Schools Take Recycling a Step Further Partnership Utilizes Food Waste for Electricity and Other Uses

By J.D. O’Gara
November is World Recycling Month, and Franklin is doing its part, starting with its youngest residents. Since 2011, Franklin Public Schools have been working with Agri-Cycle, a food waste hauler, to recycle even those leftover lunches. This past year, in fact, those efforts, at six schools in town, have ramped up.
“We use an anaerobic digester, up in Exeter, Maine,” says Gunnar Heckler, of Agri-Cycle, “It looks like giant hot tub with a lid. Inside that is all the food waste brought to our facility. It’s getting spun around, with giant fan blades in the bottom of the digester whipping food waste around, releasing natural gas like methane. We capture all that, and because it’s internally sealed in the digesters, that gas isn’t being released. We destroy those gases in the process of making electricity.”
Heckler explains that Agri-Cycle partners with Stonyvale Farm, in Maine, supplying its energy needs, with leftover liquid is used as a crop additive on the farm and dried-out pulpy material used as bedding for dairy cows. The company also sells power back to the ISO New England electrical grid (
“The process is zero waste,” says Heckler. Any packaging is separated out in a de-packager machine.
“The program was a good collaboration between facilities, food service and the DPW,” says Colin Boisvert, Director of Food Services for Franklin Public Schools, who credits Derek Adams, Franklin’s Environmental Affairs Coordinator, with initiating the program. “It was a very easy program to get going, but it’s an intimidating one. A lot is based on student behavior and student sorting and all that, but students have been very receptive, and administration at each school has been supportive as well. It’s making a difference; it really is.”
According to Agri-Cycle, each 64-gallon tote per school yields about 200 pounds, and the company has calculated the tonnage per school since December 1, 2022, noting that some of the schools didn’t start participating until the end of the school year last year. Here’s how much food waste has been recycled per school since that time:
•    Keller: 92 totes, or an estimated 9.2 Tons
•    Remington: 153 Totes, or an estimated 15.3 tons
•    Franklin High School: 81 totes, or an estimated 8.1 tons
•    Parmenter: 2 totes, or an estimated 400 lbs.
•    Horace Mann: 73 totes, or an estimated 7.3 tons
•    JFK Memorial: 11 Totes, or an estimated 2,200 lbs.
Boisvert explains that recycling is a little different at each site, but, where trash used to be in the cafeteria, “now there’s a series of bins, so students are actually sorting their trash when they dispose of it. Some of them do it really well; some don’t. As part of the operational side, we thought of training them. Some sites also do a liquid disposal, where there’s a bucket.”
Boisvert adds that his department also purchases a lot of compostable food products and packaging. “Not all, but a good amount,” he says.
Franklin will continue to keep such green initiatives at the forefront.
“By end of decade, we’re planning on designing and constructing a state-of-the-art recycling center for the entire community,” says Town Administrator Jamie Hellen. “We hope to have a composting center, and we hope to have a variety of options for leaves and yard waste. We hope to combine, at some point the recycling center and curbside leaf pickup, not only to protect our drinking water, but preserve the Charles River and be better stewards of the earth.
We’re trying to be progressive and use cutting edge ideas.”
Hellen adds that Senator Spilka, Rep. Roy, and Sen. Rausch worked together a few years ago to get a $1 million appropriation in a previous bond bill to help with that effort as well.